An Edinburgh startup is hoping to revolutionise prostate cancer screening through the development of a system that provides more accurate testing at an early stage, leading to reduced patient anxiety and more efficient diagnosis.
ProstaPalp, developed by Heriot-Watt University based IntelliPalp Dx, provides an objective exam for prostate cancer diagnosis and management. The company is working with CENSIS, Scotland’s centre of excellence for sensor and imaging systems and Internet of Things (IoT), to accelerate the process of bringing the test to market.
According to research by Prostate Cancer UK, 47,500 men are diagnosed with prostate cancer every year while as many as one-in-eight develop the disease in their lifetime.
Individuals who test positive are referred for MRI scans, followed by biopsies if there is still a concern, which can be a painful experience and lead to negative side effects.
Professor Alan McNeill, co-founder and chief medical officer at IntelliPalp Dx, said: “Prostate cancer research has focused on finding a test that can sit alongside PSA screening, helping to identify individuals most at risk of the disease.
“There are some forms of the cancer that are aggressive, but the majority are indolent and unlikely to impact on a person’s lifespan. While they may still require active surveillance, there is no need for these patients to go through with a biopsy and the complications it entails.
“With ProstaPalp, we believe that we will be able to find the cases that are significant and determine their severity quickly after testing, only sending those who are likely to have cancer for an MRI scan and biopsy.”
McNeill added: “The technology will provide a lot more certainty for patients and deliver quicker results, reducing unnecessary anxiety.
“Rather than relying on subjective assessment by the human finger, it will bring a level of reproducible objectivity to what was previously a qualitative measure and help the health service focus investigation and treatment on those who need it most.”
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During initial trials with patients, ProstaPalp has accurately detected areas of the prostate with clinically significant cancer. Surveys conducted during the device’s trials have also found patients prefer the use of the tech over existing testing methods.
Bob Reuben, the co-founder of IntelliPalp Dx and professor of materials engineering at Heriot-Watt University, commented: “The idea behind ProstaPalp is to discern the relationship between changes in the structure and stiffness of the prostate and link this likelihood of cancer being present.
“Essentially, we are aiming to emulate the human sense of touch through a mechanical device to bring greater precision, repeatability, and objectivity to an area of primary healthcare that is heavily reliant on qualitative assessment.”
Reuben added: “Few people have tried this at an engineering level and our initial results have been highly successful. The same principles could be applied to other forms of human tissue assessment, further down the line, and in more challenging environments.”