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Research to shed light on breast cancer detection


Leading edge research being pioneered by Northumbria and Newcastle Universities could lead to a safer and more effective way of screening for breast cancer.

Dr David Smith from Northumbria’s School of Computing, Engineering and Information Sciences, is developing a microwave-based technique that can generate holographic high-quality images of hidden objects such as tumours.

Now an award from the Medical Research Council means he and a research associate can spend time at Newcastle University’s Medical School to learn at first hand how the technology can be applied.

Working in collaboration with Professor Tom Lennard, Head of Surgery at Newcastle University Medical School, Dr Smith will be able to use false breasts with a simulated tumour to test the technique.

“We already have proof of concept – we know microwave images can detect the difference in materials - but this collaboration will allow us to use more realistic samples and take this project a stage further,’’ said Dr Smith of Lanchester in Co. Durham.

Using holograms to detect breast cancer is more effective, cheaper and safer than X-rays, which can, in high doses, be dangerous. Microwave radiation, on the other hand, is harmless to humans.

Tumours are also easier to spot using microwave frequencies because they give clearer and more accurate pictures of the tissue being screened.

Although still in its early stages, it is hoped the technique could be used in clinical trials within just three years.

The Government’s Chief Whip and MP for North West Durham, the Rt Hon Hilary Armstrong accepted a personal invitation from Dr Smith to visit the University to see at first hand the work going on in this area.

The microwave imaging techniques used by Dr Smith can also be used to detect concealed weapons. He is currently in discussions with a number of defence firms with a view to moving forward that side of the project.

Dr Smith said: “The technology could be very versatile and suited for use in security, medical and industrial applications. Although we are just at the beginning of this research, our ultimate aim is to offer an alternative, fast 3D microwave imaging technique which can be used across a wide range of disciplines.’’

Katrina Alnikizil | alfa
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