EU-funded project for NIR diagnostic device wins at Photonics Europe

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During the recent SPIE Photonics Europe conference in Brussels in April, the Photonics Innovation Village award for ‘Best Innovation by a Multilateral Project, Organisation or Company’ was granted to Gooch and Housego and collaborators including scientists from the University of Exeter in the UK, for an EU-funded project developing a new infrared system to diagnose disease.

The award for the MINERVA (mid- to near-infrared spectroscopy for improved medical diagnostics) project was accepted by G&H research engineer Gary Stevens and is funded with €7.3 million under the European Commission’s Seventh Framework Program (FP7-ICT). It runs from November 2012 until October 2016 and costs a total of €10.6 million.

In recent years it has been demonstrated that mid-IR imaging spectroscopy has the potential to open a new chapter in bio-medical imaging and offers an effective tool for early cancer diagnosis and improved survival rates. Rather than a search for ‘cancer marker’ absorption peaks, great progress has been made by analysing the entire bio-molecular mid-IR spectral signature using automated algorithms. However, the lack of suitable sources, detectors and components has restricted the technology to one of academic interest, based on weak thermal sources, low power lasers or synchrotron research tools.

For the first time the photonic technology is in place to develop a new mid-IR technology platform on which entirely novel supercontinuum sources (c. 1,000 times brighter than thermal sources) covering the whole range from 1.5 to 12μm.

Clinical trials of a MINERVA-based system will start within the next few months although the goal of developing an in vivo scanning system to probe patients is still some way off.

According to Professor Nicholas Stone, professor of biomedical imaging and biosensing at the University of Exeter’s School of Physics: ‘The field of vibrational spectroscopy applied to medicine is rapidly advancing and many groups have now demonstrated the capability of mid-infrared imaging to identify subtle disease specific changes in the molecular composition of tissues and cells.

‘The MINERVA project will take this technique to the next level by enabling it to be utilised much more rapidly, by developing bright IR sources and sensitive detector arrays we expect to be able to capture diagnostic images of unstained tissues and cells in a matter of seconds. In addition clever data analysis methods will allow the image to be superimposed on each other and standard histopathology images of the same sample. The potential for revolutionising the current methods of clinical diagnosis are huge.’

The MINERVA project runs until 2015 and is led by optical technology providers Gooch and Housego. Other participants include: BBT Materials Processing SRO (Czech Republic), Technical University of Denmark, Gloucestershire Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust (UK), Irnova (Sweden), LISA Laser Products (Germany), NKT Photonics A/S, Polytechnic University of Valencia (Spain), University of Exeter (UK), University of Nottingham (UK), Vivid Components (UK), University of Münster (Germany), Xenics (Belgium).