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Medical imaging research awarded £4.5m

Grant will improve breast cancer screening

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New developments in imaging technology could revolutionise diagnostic medicine, and save 2,000 lives in Europe every year, through better breast cancer screening, according to a group of UK scientists.

A consortium of universities and other research bodies, led by Dr. Nigel Allinson of the University of Sheffield, was awarded a £4.5m grant by the UK Research Council for a four-year project called Multidimensional Integrated Intelligent Imaging.

The project will exploit advances in microelectronic Active Pixel Sensors (APS) to provide new imaging capabilities across a wide range of scientific endeavour: from space missions and high-energy accelerators probing the fundamental structure of matter; to safer and more sensitive medical instruments capable of seeing the internal details of individual cells.

Allinson points out that APS technology has made a huge impact in the commercial camera market. "f you buy a high quality digital camera, it will most likely have at its heart an active pixel sensor. Our consortium [will develop and exploit] these sensors for the whole of UK science. We will develop sensors that can see not only in the visible part of the spectrum but in the x-ray, ultraviolet and infrared regions as well."

Each pixel on an APS device contains a photosensitive element and several transistors. Currently, the fab process allows for around 30 transistors per pixel. Allinson predicts that in a few years time there will be room for up to 300. This will make the imaging devices much more intelligent, and will allow those using the device to isolate particular features of an image and get readouts very quickly.

The kind of instruments the consortium has in mind will be so powerful that within a few years it will be possible to walk into your GP’s surgery and have a full analysis of your DNA profile and exactly what proteins and other molecules are present in your blood, Allinson says.

The RCUK has a budget of £20m to fund basic research every year. This is the largest single grant awarded this year, and one of the largest ever made. The research consortium is made up of seven universities, the Medical Research Council Laboratory of Molecular Biology (Cambridge), Imperial Cancer Research (Royal Marsden Hospital) and the national Rutherford-Appleton Laboratory (CCLRC). ®

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