$6 million for breast cancer imaging tool

Monday, 05 June, 2017

WA medical device company OncoRes Medical, established to develop an imaging tool to improve the outcome of breast cancer surgery, will receive up to $6 million of venture capital investment from the Medical Research Commercialisation Fund (MRCF). The funding will go towards a handheld imaging probe and console which will provide real-time intraoperative guidance to surgeons by assisting with the delineation of tumour from healthy tissue.

Breast cancer has the second-highest mortality rate of all cancers in women. Surgical removal of the tumour is a central component of treatment and the most common procedure is breast-conserving surgery, which aims to remove the cancerous tissue while ensuring a good cosmetic outcome. But complete removal of the tumour is challenging and a key issue facing surgeons is the accurate, microscopic identification of tumour during surgery.

Currently, a pathologist examines the removed tissue post-operatively. If there are cancer cells in the margin surrounding the removed tissue, the patient will require additional surgery to remove the residual tumour. As a result, approximately 25% of patients undergoing breast-conserving surgery will require a second surgery to remove residual malignant tissue not removed in the initial operation.

OncoRes Medical’s goal is to provide surgeons with an image which will assist them to identify residual cancerous tissue remaining within the breast so it can be removed during surgery, reducing the need for repeat surgery. Over the past five years, biomedical engineers from The University of Western Australia (UWA) and surgeons and pathologists from the Western Australian Department of Health have been working to address this, exploring how light and pressure can be used to enhance the microscopic visualisation of tissue stiffness — a property that can be used to differentiate between healthy and cancerous tissues within the surgical suite.

Previous grant funding received from a number of sources has enabled the researchers to demonstrate on >100 specimens that their technology has the potential to accurately delineate malignant tissue at the microscopic level. The new funding will enable OncoRes Medical to develop the technology in partnership with Dr Brendan Kennedy’s team at the Harry Perkins Institute of Medical Research and the School of Electrical, Electronic and Computer Engineering at UWA, as well as breast cancer surgeon Professor Christobel Saunders at the Department of Health.

“Our vision is to provide the surgeon with more information and the patient with a better outcome,” said Dr Kennedy. “If we can reduce the number of repeat surgeries by removing all of the tumour in the first operation, it will directly impact the lives of patients and reduce the considerable healthcare costs associated with repeat surgeries.”

The company hopes to have a device ready for clinical trials within two years.

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