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Smart Slides Help Detect Cancer in Australia

Australian researchers have created ‘smart’ microscope slides that can detect breast cancer cells. The innovative tech, NanoMSlide modifies microscope slides at the nanoscale and has been developed by researchers at La Trobe University. In the study, the researchers trialed the slides to diagnose early-stage breast cancer. Now the team and their partners, including researchers from ANU, have proved it works, with their new study showing how the slides use striking colour contrasts to instantly detect disease.

ANU Deputy Vice-Chancellor for Research and Innovation, Professor Keith Nugent, co-author of the study, says the new tech could revolutionise the world of medical imaging. He noted that the is a remarkable new way of seeing the microscopic world that has the potential to revolutionise the way that we can rapidly detect diseases such as breast cancer. It is unlike any other method we have at the moment and highlights the important ways in which basic physics research can directly lead to new life-saving technologies. The slides work by giving a striking colour contrast to biological structures and cells. According to the team, it is like seeing the cancer “popping” up out of the slide.

Project Lead, Professor Brian Abbey has spent the past five years developing the technology at La Trobe University with co-inventor Dr Eugeniu Balaur. He noted that current approaches to tissue imaging often rely on staining or labelling cells to render them visible under the microscope. Even with staining or labelling, it can be challenging for pathologists to detect cancer cells, with the risk that some samples are misdiagnosed, particularly during the very early stages of the disease.

Recent breakthroughs in nanotechnology have allowed scientists to manipulate the interaction of light with biological tissue so that abnormal cells appear to have a different colour to healthy ones. “Comparing images from our slides to conventional staining is like watching colour television when all you’ve seen before is in black and white,” he said.

The study, published in Nature, involved researchers from La Trobe, ANU, the Garvan Institute of Medical Research, the Royal Melbourne Hospital, the Olivia Newton‐John Cancer Research Institute and the University of Melbourne.

The global cancer diagnostics market size was valued at US$17.2 billion in 2021 and is expected to grow at a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 11.5% from 2021 to 2026. The growth of the cancer diagnostics market is driven mainly by the increasing incidence of cancer and growth in the number of private diagnostic laboratories.

With the WHO officially declaring the outbreak of COVID-19 a pandemic, a mix of established pharmaceutical and biopharmaceutical companies and small start-ups has stepped forward to develop treatments and vaccines that target the infection caused by the novel coronavirus.

The COVID-19 outbreak has significantly impacted the availability of hospital resources worldwide. This has been primarily managed by dramatically reducing inpatient and outpatient services for other diseases and implementing infection prevention and control measures. The number of cancer screening and diagnostic procedures declined precipitously, with countries worldwide being affected by the pandemic.

By technology, the cancer diagnostics market is segmented into IVD testing, imaging-based and biopsy techniques. The IVD testing segment accounted for the largest market share in 2020. The large share of this segment can be attributed to the increasing incidence of cancer.

Based on end-users, the cancer diagnostics market is segmented into hospitals and diagnostic laboratories. The hospitals’ segment accounted for the largest share of the cancer diagnostics market in 2020. The increasing number of patients visiting hospitals, the rising number of in-house diagnostic procedures performed in hospitals, and growing awareness regarding early diagnosis are the major driving factor for this market.

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