Cancer is the second leading cause for death worldwide. A current trend in medicine demands to develop minimal-invasive optical imaging techniques to visually determine lesion boundaries. If such a device was available, the current 2-step procedure of biopsy and follow-up analysis of stained tissue under the microscope by the pathologist could be replaced by a single 1-step surgery. This would be a major achievement with less burden on the patient, improved certainty to have entirely removed cancerous tissue, reduced risk of metastasis, and avoidance of confusion due to cicatrix after biopsy.
Raman spectroscopy has been demonstrated in the literature to be capable of performing this task. However, current spectrometers on the market are single-channel devices that have no imaging capabilities.
We have recently published results from a validation project that has demonstrated how integral field spectroscopy from Astronomy can enable Raman imaging to distinguish malign from benign tissue: a first step towards a future medical device that would provide the surgeon with augmented reality vision to see the state of tissue during operation. In order to make progress towards a certified medical product, a prototype imaging spectrograph to conduct clinical studies is urgently needed.
3D-CANCER-SPEC will combine the expertise of two partners involved in the development of the innovative MUSE integral field spectrograph for the European Southern Observatory (ESO) Very Large Telescope to perform a design study for such an imaging spectrograph, suitable for clinical design studies. The deliverable of the project would immediately enable the manufacture of one (or several) prototype(s). It is currently being demonstrated that our fibre-coupled variant of the MUSE spectrograph does not only allow skin cancer diagnostics, but also has a compelling edge for endoscopy.
We know from our clinical and industrial partners that are involved with us in follow-up studies to the initial validation, that there is pressing need to conduct clinical studies with sufficient statistical significance. However, our MUSE-based laboratory setup is too bulky and not suitable for this task. A hospital or an SME endoscopy vendor typically does not have the expertise to develop such a spectrograph. The goal of 3D-CANCER-SPEC is therefore to bridge the “innovation gap” and enable the development of a prototype spectrograph for clinical studies. We propose to perform a state-of-the-art design study for a complete system, including software, that will be convincing to let funding agencies or venture capital invest in the next step, i.e. the actual manufacture of the prototype that would then facilitate to launch the disruptive innovation.