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Research & Development

Ultrafast camera to aid targeted chemotherapy

06 Jun 2018

Wide-band, high-resolution, 100 million frames-per-second imager under development for UK’s new Rosalind Franklin Institute.

A UK-based research team is working on a high-performance camera that is expected to help develop new diagnostic tools and novel therapies for treating some of the deadliest forms of cancer – including brain and pancreatic tumors.

Under development through a collaboration between Norwich-based high-speed imaging specialist Invisible Vision and a team of researchers at the University of Oxford, the ultrafast imager will be deployed at the new Rosalind Franklin Institute (RFI), currently under construction near Oxford.

Named after the X-ray crystallographer who played a key role in the discovery of the molecular structure of DNA, the RFI is a £100 million center aimed at pharmaceuticals development. It was officially launched by UK business minister Greg Clark MP on June 6.

It is aiming to accelerate the rate of drug development in a variety of ways, including a “fully automated molecular discovery” laboratory, and using artificial intelligence to speed new drug production for clinical trials. It is hoped that the new camera will yield key insights into the combination of ultrasound and chemotherapy as a more effective way to kill tumor cells.

Invisible Vision was set up in 2007 by Mark Riches, a veteran of high-speed imaging equipment development and one of the founders of Imco Electro-Optics before it was acquired by infrared imaging firm DRS Hadland back in 2002. In 2013, Invisible Vision launched its billion-frames-per-second “UBSi” camera.

Sound and vision
Based at the Harwell Campus near Oxford, the RFI is in close proximity to both the Diamond Light Source synchrotron and the Central Laser Facility. Among its five themed technology areas are two photonics-related activities, namely “imaging with sound and light”, and “correlated imaging”.

The ultrafast video camera development, to be developed as part of an initial £6 million investment package, is designed to combine state-of-the-art high-speed imaging technology with the compact size and convenience of a conventional camera.

Eleanor Stride, a professor of engineering science at Oxford’s Institute of Biomedical Engineering, will be closely involved in the development of the camera and its application. She explains that it should help make chemotherapy more targeted and effective – and to reduce the side effects of treating patients with such toxic substances.

“The major challenge with treating cancer is that it's very difficult to get enough of the drug deep into the tumor to effectively kill all of the cells," she said, adding that current delivery methods for cancer drugs rely on the active cancer-killing molecules reaching and entering those tumor cells by diffusion.

“This makes it difficult to ensure that all parts of a tumor are treated and leads to terrible side effects because large volumes of healthy tissue also absorb the drug," added Stride. "We need to find a better way to get these drugs into cancer cells specifically, quickly and effectively.”

Targeted drug delivery
Where the camera is expected to help is in understanding the biophysical mechanisms behind drug delivery. It will also enable researchers to watch how ultrasound interacts with drug-loaded particles and tissue, and how that novel approach is able to control the uptake of drugs into cancer cells deep inside tumors – and not healthy tissue.

"To understand how that's working, we need to build an amazing camera that doesn't exist in the world currently," Stride pointed out. "Most current devices are limited to the optical part of the spectrum, or look at specific wavelengths. This camera will be flexible, [and] able to look at the full spectrum from ultraviolet to infrared, which means we’ll be able to see more detail and get higher-resolution images than ever before.

“It will help us see how the ultrasound affects the particles and how exactly it helps improve the drug delivery, and allow us to develop the treatment to make it more effective.”

Once completed, the new instrument is likely to find plenty of other applications – depending on its exact configuration, it might be applied to problems in materials science, plasma physics, combustion, sonochemistry, photoacoustics, biological membrane dynamics, and fluid dynamics.

Watch: “World’s best video camera” to aid development of targeted cancer therapies:

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