New Technique May Replace Tissue Biopsies With Virtual Versions

Cancer researchers at the University of Cambridge have developed a new and advanced computing technique that uses routine medical imaging to enable doctors to take fewer and more accurate tumour biopsies.

The research has shown that this important step in helping cancer patients choose the best treatment, uses a combination of computed tomography (CT) scans with ultrasound images to create a visual guide for doctors so that they can sample the full complexity of a tumour with fewer targeted biopsies, according to a University of Cambridge press release.

To select the best treatment, it is vital that the tumour heterogeneity, the variety of different cancer cells within a tumour, is captured efficiently, as genetically-different cells may respond differently to a treatment.

The biopsies that many cancer patients undergo to confirm a diagnosis and plan treatments are invasive, and there is a need to reduce the number of biopsies taken, as ensure that they are also accurately sampled, especially for ovarian cancer patients, as high grade serous ovarian (HGSO) cancer, the most common type of ovarian cancer can be difficult to detect in the early stages.

Often, by the time it is diagnosed, it can already be at an advanced stage, and survival rates have not improved much within the last two decades. HGSO tumours tend to have a high level of tumour heterogeneity, and the genetic diversity of the cancer cells lead to a poorer response to treatments.

Targeted biopsies taken after using the new method were reported by the researchers to have successfully captured the diversity of cancer cells within the tumour.

Dr Lucian Beer, from the Department of Radiology and CRUK Cambridge Centre Ovarian Cancer Programme, said: “Our study is a step forward to non-invasively unravel tumour heterogeneity by using standard-of-care CT-based radiomic tumour habitats for ultrasound-guided targeted biopsies.”

Professor Evis Sala from the Department of Radiology, co-lead CRUK Cambridge Centre Advanced Cancer Imaging Programme, added: “This study provides an important milestone towards precision tissue sampling. We are truly pushing the boundaries in translating cutting edge research to routine clinical care.”

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