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High-res imaging technology promises to improve cancer diagnostics

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Experts anticipate that the high-resolution capabilities of a new generation of medical imaging technologies could greatly enhance the ability to diagnose and treat a range of cancers.

A team at Heriot-Watt University, Edinburgh, has claimed to be able to produce medical images with five to ten times the resolution of traditional methods. By injecting small bubbles into the bloodstream and scanning organs, blood flow can be inspected for the first time at a precision of 0.05mm.

This new ultrasound technology could greatly increase the success rate of spotting cancers. NHS trials are already planned with patients, starting in December at Edinburgh’s Western General Hospital.

Dr. Vassilis Sboros, a lecturer in physics and mechanical engineering at Heriot-Watt University who led the research, said that because of the super-resolution capability of the new images, the ability of the medical staff to pinpoint, diagnose and treat a range of cancers should be greatly enhanced. 

“What we can see is all these bubbles one by one – we see dots in the image," he said. "By joining the dots, we end up with a picture that has much more detail and a lot more specific information.

"At the moment we can detect a few cancers with ultrasound but our new technique increases the confidence with which we can be sure whether something looks cancerous. We now need to do clinical trials on humans, but we may well be able to pick up cancers, such as pancreatic cancer and liver cancer, far earlier.”

As the number of new technologies increase, so does the cost for hospital providers and national healthcare systems. According to a 2019 healthcare industry report by auditing and management consulting firm Deloitte, costly digital technologies are among other developments that will continue to increase healthcare demands and expenditures. 

However, Dr. Sboros said the new technique will not require hospitals to upgrade their current equipment.

Many surgeries and medical and diagnostic procedures that once required an inpatient stay can now be performed safely in an outpatient setting, according to the Deloitte report. This could also affect how and where medical imaging is being performed.

The report also flagged a warning that the UK’s economy and healthcare spending could be dampened by its decision to leave the European Union this year.

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