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#HRB30 Story

Reaching into lungs – a new approach to early biopsies

20 December 2016

HRB-funded research at University College Cork has developed computer software to build models of a patient’s airways and assess suspicious growths based on CT scans. They also developed a device that can be guided through the mouth and deep into the lungs to biopsy nodules without the need for full surgery.

University College Cork, Project leader Dr Pádraig Cantillon-Murphy

The problem

Lung cancer is the biggest cancer killer in Ireland, but suspicious early nodules growing deep in the airways are sometimes left unbiopsied because conventional endoscopes cannot reach them and other approaches to biopsy (such as needles or surgery) carry larger risks for the patient.

The project

The research team developed computer software to 3D-map out an individual patient’s airways from images taken in routine CT scans. They also built a catheter-based medical device that can be guided using the computer software ‘sat nav’ towards nodules or tumours deep in the lung.

The outcomes
  • Computer software that 3D-maps patient airways - this has been made available to the clinical community, and it is already being used by others to build 3D-printed models of patient airways.
  • Software that analyses CT images and helps doctors to identify whether nodules are likely to be cancerous based on the patient’s history and the location and appearance of the nodule.
  •  A new device that can be guided through the lungs in real time to reach distant nodules without the need for surgery.
  • Several papers published in academic literature on the development of the mapping software and medical device.
  • A collaboration between UCC and the prestigious German Cancer Research Centre (DKFZ) in Heidelberg, one of the leading chest cancer centres in the world.

Dr Pádraig Cantillon-Murphy says:

'We set out to tackle this problem of finding and analysing small cancerous tumours in the lung, and we have developed not only a new device to do this without surgery but also new ways of mapping and navigating the lung and computer software to help doctors make decisions about scan results. It’s a real case of bringing people with lots of different backgrounds together - doctors, computer software experts, engineers - and getting lots of positive outcomes from working on this very real clinical problem'.

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