‘Virtual biopsies’ could replace tissue biopsies in future thanks to technique developed by Cambridge scientists


07-01-2021
  Image showing individual and combined scans  Credit: Evis Sala

A new advanced computing technique using routine medical scans to enable doctors to take fewer, more accurate tumour biopsies, has been developed by cancer researchers at the University of Cambridge. This is an important step towards precision tissue sampling for cancer patients to help select the best treatment. In future the technique could even replace clinical biopsies with ‘virtual biopsies’, sparing patients invasive procedures.

The research published in European Radiology shows that combining computed tomography (CT) scans with ultrasound images creates a visual guide for doctors to ensure they sample the full complexity of a tumour with fewer targeted biopsies.

Capturing the patchwork of different types of cancer cell within a tumour – known as tumour heterogeneity – is critical for selecting the best treatment because genetically-different cells may respond differently to treatment.

Most cancer patients undergo one or several biopsies to confirm diagnosis and plan their treatment. But because this is an invasive clinical procedure, there is an urgent need to reduce the number of biopsies taken and to make sure biopsies accurately sample the genetically-different cells in the tumour, particularly for ovarian cancer patients.

High grade serous ovarian (HGSO) cancer, the most common type of ovarian cancer, is referred to as a ‘silent killer’ because early symptoms can be difficult to pick up. By the time the cancer is diagnosed, it is often at an advanced stage, and survival rates have not changed much over the last 20 years.

But late diagnosis isn’t the only problem. HGSO tumours tend to have a high level of tumour heterogeneity and patients with more genetically-different patches of cancer cells tend to have a poorer response to treatment.

Professor Evis Sala from the Department of Radiology, co-lead CRUK Cambridge Centre Advanced Cancer Imaging Programme, leads a multi-disciplinary team of radiologists, physicists, oncologists and computational scientists using innovative computing techniques to reveal tumour heterogeneity from standard medical images. This new study, led by Professor Sala, involved a small group of patients with advanced ovarian cancer who were due to have ultrasound-guided biopsies prior to starting chemotherapy.

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Image :shows individual and combined scans

Credit: Evis Sala

Reproduced courtesy of the University of Cambridge

 

The University of Cambridge is acknowledged as one of the world's leading higher education and research institutions. The University was instrumental in the formation of the Cambridge Network and its Vice- Chancellor, Professor Stephen Toope, is also the President of the Cambridge Network.

University of Cambridge (cam.ac.uk)