Medical laboratory

Scientists developing robot to help detect and treat prostate cancer

Image credit: Pixabay

Researchers and scientists from the University of Portsmouth have been developing a robot as the new ‘weapon of choice’ to detect and treat the most common cancer in men.

The £3.3m project, involving computer experts from the university, has been described as a “potentially game-changing” way of improving the accuracy of prostate cancer biopsies and brachytherapy, a treatment for some forms of the disease.

It is reported there are around 40,000 new cases diagnosed in the UK every year, and the European Union-funded prototype is expected to be ready within five years to help combat it.

Brachytherapy involves “planting” radioactive seeds the size and shape of rice grains into the prostate, where they destroy cancer cells by giving out a steady dose of radiation over months.

The new treatment will allow more accurate placement of the radioactive material. This would mean less invasive treatment and less harm being done to surrounding healthy tissue.

Professors Dylan Jones and Ashraf Labib, from the University of Portsmouth, will provide logistical modelling and artificial intelligence computing to help create the new robotic treatment.

Jones said: “Prostate cancer was chosen for the development of this radical new treatment solution because it’s such a common cancer and where it is in the body lends itself to the use of robotics.

“There are particular challenges in delivering brachytherapy – it’s not the only treatment for prostate cancer, but it’s a good option for treatment for many patients.

“This development will, we hope, allow medics and scientists to come up with a treatment plan that is much more focused on the individual and the ‘map’ of their particular cancer.

“It will mean fewer needles need to be used, the treatment will be less invasive, and it will be much more accurate, giving medics superb precision.

“The same tools could later be used to treat cancers of the head and neck as well as performing biopsies for cancer detection.”

The research project, known as CoBra, involves robot-design experts from France, a steerable flexible needle developed in the Netherlands and clinical scientists at the Queen Alexandra Hospital in Portsmouth.

This Friday, a project to develop a ‘universal’ protein-based cancer therapy – which enters clinical trials in 2020 – has been awarded the European Institute of Innovation and Technology (EIT) Public Award.

Also, back in March, a robotic surgeon was used to simultaneously operate on two areas of a patient suffering from colorectal cancer, in a first for The Royal Marsden Hospital in London.

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