A mechanical device that could have a major impact on the diagnosis, assessment and surveillance of prostate cancer is being developed in a joint project by Heriot-Watt University and the University of Edinburgh.
This project will bring together internationally known specialists in medical engineering, microengineering and urology
Minimally invasive probes
The £1 million e-Finger project, funded by EPSRC, will design and test a range of probes, which will be able to measure the hardness the prostate tissue, which has been linked to potential cancer development. It is expected that the use of the micro-mechanical probes will provide a minimally invasive measure of tissue quality to refine and build on information currently gained from ultrasound and other tests.
A range of probe sizes will mean that the prostate can be tested via transurethral, transrectal, and laparoscopic approaches in a way that is minimally invasive, providing doctors and surgeons with valuable additional information and, particularly in the case of the laparoscopic approach, aiding in surgery.
"A whole new way of helping doctors"
Bob Reuben, Professor of Materials Engineering at the School of Engineering & Physical Sciences at Heriot-Watt University, said: "This project will bring together internationally known specialists in medical engineering, microengineering and urology.
"Our expectation is that these devices will provide a guide to theraputic decision making, providing the basis for a whole new way of helping doctors to make key decisions in treatment and surgery. We hope that the approach will find applications beyond the field of urology."
This minimally invasive way of testing for the development of prostate cancers...could help to avoid situations where a man with a clinically insignificant cancer may undergo radical treatment unnecessarily
"Potentially huge implications for the ageing population"
Mr Alan McNeill, Consultant Urologist at Lothian University Hospital's NHS Trust and honorary senior lecturer for the University of Edinburgh, said "This minimally invasive way of testing for the development of prostate cancers, which we plan to develop through the co-operation of clinicians and medical and engineering academics, could help to avoid situations where a man with a clinically insignificant cancer may undergo radical treatment unnecessarily, whilst others may not receive the treatment they require.
"It has potentially huge implications for the ageing population, and may also offer help in other situations where a remote or minimally-invasive measure of tissue quality is desired."
The project, which will run for three and a half years, will involve two key industrial partners and a strong engagement with the UK and European urological community.