Using light for accurate diagnosis

Early and accurate diagnosis can make the difference between life and death. But for many diseases, diagnostic tools that can pick up disease at an early stage either do not exist, are imprecise or are limited to use in hospitals and specialist centres.  

Grow MedTech is supporting Dr Yvette Hancock, Associate Professor from the University of York’s School of Physics and Enterprise Fellow at the Centre for Future Health, to develop a diagnostic tool with the potential to work across a range of diseases and in different healthcare settings.

The tool uses a technique called Raman spectroscopy to analyse blood samples, whereby carefully controlled laser light is beamed at the sample and interacts with the molecules within it. 

This interaction changes the signature of the light that scatters back, providing a ‘molecular fingerprint’ of what the sample contains. 

Dr Hancock has been working with clinical teams and academic partners at Guy’s Hospital and King’s College, London, as well as the instrumentation company Horiba UK, to develop a portable Raman spectrometer that could be used in a clinical setting.

But with so many potential applications for the technology, the team turned to Grow MedTech to help them identify the best route for clinical application and commercialisation. 

Market analysis 

Grow MedTech Proof of Market funding allowed Dr Hancock to commission the York Health Economics Consortium to assess the potential markets and health-benefit potential for the technology. Based on this analysis, the team decided to focus its efforts initially on prostate cancer. 

Prostate cancer is currently screened using the PSA blood test and a GP examination. Because the PSA test has limited accuracy, it can lead to further testing such as a biopsy, which can have adverse side-effects, as well as late diagnosis when cancer is missed.  

“We wanted to develop the technology to have the biggest impact possible and prostate cancer is an urgent area of need,” explains Dr Hancock.

“It is the second most common cause of cancer death for men in the UK, with around 48,000 men diagnosed each year, and with incidence rates on the rise. 

But our ability to accurately screen for it is still pretty poor, so an easy and accurate test would be a gamechanger for detecting prostate cancer at the earliest stage possible.” 

Dr Hancock is now developing the diagnostic tool to not only accurately pick up cases of prostate cancer, but also to identify whether the cancer is an aggressive type and to what stage the disease has progressed, allowing for the best possible means of early detection of the disease. 

Clinical studies 

She has already proven that the technology can accurately diagnose prostate cancer in human cells in the laboratory. Grow MedTech is now helping to fund two studies to validate the technology in blood samples.

The first is a clinical trial at Guy’s Hospital in London, testing the technology against samples from prostate cancer patients. A parallel control study is underway at the University of York with samples from healthy donors. 

“Grow MedTech have been crucial in taking this project forward,” says Dr Hancock. “We’d already built a strong team, with industrial, clinical and academic partners, but the market analysis we gained through Grow MedTech was critical in helping us to focus our efforts more effectively. 

The clinical trial, if successful, will help us take the technology to the next stage.”