November 25, 2020

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Non-invasive tech to boost diagnosis and treatment for respiratory diseases

Researchers from Australia’s Monash University have developed a radical non-invasive technology that can be used to diagnose respiratory lung diseases and potentially fast-track treatments for patients.

About the initiative

For the first time, researchers have reportedly taken technology, which is usually confined to high-tech synchrotron facilities, into a common laboratory setting.

They applied new four-dimensional X-ray velocity (XV Technology) imaging in order to provide high-definition and sensitive real-time images of airflow through the lungs in live organisms.

Dr Rhiannon Murrie, from the University’s Department of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering, led the study that shows the likely impact this technology has in respiratory disease detection, monitoring and treatment through non-invasive and non-terminal means.

Additionally, the technology also has the potential to see whether treatments for respiratory illnesses are working much earlier.

This research project was supported in part by the National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC) and the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation.

Background

The technology has since been commercialised by Australian-based med-tech company 4Dx Limited, led by CEO and former Monash University researcher Professor Andreas Fouras.

The technology has been up-scaled for human clinical trials taking place in the USA, with Phase I already completed successfully.

Dr Murrie explained that the early diagnosis and ongoing monitoring of genetic and chronic lung diseases, such as cystic fibrosis, asthma and lung cancer, is currently hampered by the inability to capture the spatial distribution of lung function in a breathing lung.

Since pulmonary function tests are measured at the mouth, these tests are unable to localise wherein the lung any change in function originates.

Although CT scans provide quality 3D images, it cannot provide an image of the lung while it is breathing. As such, airflow through the airways and into the lung tissue cannot be measured.

Their research, which is being performed by a multi-disciplinary collaboration of physicists, engineers, biologists and clinicians, is changing the approach to the diagnosis and the treatment of lung diseases.

Methodology

This is made possible by determining the functional lung movement and airflow in live mice, which is acquired through X-ray technology at 30 frames per second.

A comparison of a cystic fibrosis mouse model against a healthy control mouse has provided the researchers with the opportunity to observe a dramatic reduction in lung aeration in the left lung of the diseased mouse largely due to an obstructed airway path.

They were able to pinpoint the exact locations where lung deficiencies were present and the location of the obstruction causing the restricted airflow.

Benefits

The successful trial opens up avenues for respiratory diseases to be diagnosed, treated and managed earlier than current technology allows and at a lower radiation dose than current CT scanning.

The ability to perform the technique in the lab makes longitudinal studies on disease progression and treatment development feasible at readily accessible facilities across the world.

It is an exciting step in advancing the understanding of lung diseases and treatments that affect millions of people globally, and particularly for those with cystic fibrosis, which affects more than 70,000 people worldwide.