Cancer treatment: Sensors to be put in tumours

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SENSORS the size of an eyelash could in future be implanted into tumours to help improve the treatment of cancer patients, Scottish scientists believe.

A £5.2 million project led by Edinburgh University will develop tiny sensors which will both monitor tumours and target treatment when and where it is most needed.

It is hoped the technology will help improve patients’ chances of survival by creating more personalised treatments.

Professor Alan Murray, leader of the project, said it could be five years before they were ready to use the sensors in clinical trials but described the work as “very exciting”.

The sensors will be designed to measure key factors about the tumours, such as levels of oxygen and their biological make-up, which would then be transmitted wirelessly to be assessed by medical staff.

Prof Murray said: “This is the most exciting project I have been involved with.”

He explained some sensors had already been created but they were not yet small enough to be useable.

“One of the challenges will be to make those a whole lot smaller,” he said. “We will also be making new types of sensor and then making them smaller.”

The sensors would also take measurements to show how effective treatments were at killing the cancer cells, allowing therapy to be personalised for each patient. Prof Murray said the implant could lead to changes in the methods for delivering radiotherapy for patients.

“Radiotherapy is currently delivered on a schedule. The patient goes in on a particular day to have the radiotherapy and then has a couple of days to recover and then maybe goes back in two weeks time.

“What this will do is say this is the best time to hit this tumour, so you could not deliver the radiotherapy to a fixed schedule. The implant would tell you when the tumour was at its most vulnerable.”

Dr Kat Arney, science information manager at Cancer Research UK, said: “Patients respond in different ways to cancer treatments, so it’s important to find out as soon as possible whether a particular therapy is working or not.

“This is an interesting approach, but it’s still at the very earliest stage and there’s a lot of work to be done to turn the idea into reality.”