New diagnostic test for oesophageal cancer
European scientists have made a major breakthrough in the development of a diagnostic test for oesophageal cancer that will hopefully lead to improvements in diagnosis and treatment of the condition.
The findings were made by scientists from the United Kingdom using the Accelerators and Lasers in Combined Experiments (ALICE) facility, which is housed at the Daresbury Laboratory's Accelerator Science and Technology Centre of the Science and Technology Facilities Council (STFC). The diagnostic test was developed by imaging tissue obtained by endoscopy from patients with a precursor condition called Barrett's Oesophagus.
Oesophageal cancer is the ninth most common cancer in the world; as well as being extremely difficult to diagnose, it is also highly aggressive. Unfortunately patients often go to their doctor when the tumour is at an advanced stage and surgical removal is no longer possible; even when surgery is performed, it is often unsuccessful. There is therefore an urgent need to develop new technologies which can detect early changes in individual cells prior to cancer development
The researchers used ALICE's InfraRed Free Electron Laser, a unique and extremely intense source of infrared light, to image historical endoscopic samples and carry out a blind study of patients with Barrett's Oesophagus, with the aim of detecting any changes that took place in the samples.
As patients suffering from Barrett's Oesophagus are more likely to develop oesophageal cancer, they are regularly monitored so that medical practitioners can detect any changes in their condition straight away. If precancerous changes are detected in these patients, they can undergo potentially curative treatment without the need for major surgery, because the tumours have been detected at a much earlier stage.
Lead researcher on the project, Professor Weightman, from the University of Liverpool, comments on the results: 'Early diagnosis is the most important factor for improving the prognosis for patients with oesophageal cancer. But it is extremely hard to diagnose accurately - a false negative test can be fatal, whereas a false positive means unnecessary major surgery. Eventually we hope to develop a diagnostic test that can be used in an endoscope. The most promising approach may be to develop a test using the intense terahertz light also generated by ALICE. ALICE is Europe's most intense band source of terahertz light and the only one in the world equipped with a tissue culture facility for research on cancer. This would lead to much cheaper and more efficient diagnosis of the disease. However this development is some way off.'
Professor Susan Smith from the STFC also comments on the development: 'It is fantastic news that, through ALICE, we now have an improved technology that could lead to significant advances in the treatment of cancer. With ALICE we have an opportunity to look at cancer cells in a way that has not been done before. It is particularly exciting that these experiments are now pointing towards an accurate diagnostic test that could change the lives of thousands of patients and we look forward to continuing to work with Professor Weightman as he takes this invaluable research to the next level.'
The first of its kind in Europe, ALICE is a prototype for the next generation of particle accelerators. It is based on a new mode of operation known as energy recovery, where the energy used to create its high-energy beam is captured and re-used after each circuit of the accelerator, so less power is required, making it cheaper to run. Electrons are sent round the accelerator at 99.99% of the speed of light, and 99.9% of the power at the final accelerator stage is recovered and re-used.
ALICE has great potential for use in a large variety of projects ranging from dedicated accelerator research and development (R&D) to numerous applications projects. The research capabilities of ALICE are enhanced by hosting a variety of light sources from THz to the Compton Back-Scattering X-ray source.
Some examples of projects ALICE currently has on the go are a range of research activities related to optical timing distribution systems, electro-optic time-of-arrival monitors, bunch longitudinal profile feedback systems, and fibre laser oscillators and clocks. This particular research is in part funded by the IRUVX-PP (Preparatory phase of the IRUVX-FEL consortium) project, which received more than EUR 5.5 million under the 'Research Infrastructures' Theme of the EU's Seventh Framework Programme (FP7).
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Data Source Provider: STFC
Document Reference: Based on information from the STFC
Subject Index: Coordination, Cooperation; Innovation, Technology Transfer; Life Sciences; Medicine, Health; Scientific Research