• Banner_ResearchStory_Robert-McLaughlin

Microscope-in-a-needle to improve outcomes in breast conserving surgery

November 12th, 2015

Nominated for The Australian Innovation Award

Breast tumours have microscopic tentacles that can prove elusive during surgery, and precision instruments able to detect the elusive edges of cancerous cells could be the answer to better outcomes for patients.

A multi-disciplinary group at the University of Western Australia (UWA), including engineers, pathologists, surgeons and radiologists, has created the microscope-in-a-needle which can show surgeons the location of the cancer’s edge during breast conserving surgery.

By identifying the margin of the breast tumour, surgeons are better able to remove the entire tumour and surrounding tissue, meaning fewer women will need secondary procedures. About 34 per cent of patients who have breast-conserving surgery to remove tumours have what are known as ‘insufficient margins’ (less than 5mm), and have an increased risk of their cancer recurring.

The microscope-in-a-needle produces an image of the cancer to show the edge of the tumour, providing a guide for the surgeon.

“It’s like an ultrasound probe, but it uses light rather than sound so we can see much smaller things. We can see individual fat cells. Cancer cells are a bit smaller, but we can see groups of cancer cells,” says Professor Robert McLaughlin, an NBCF-funded researcher on the project.

The microscope-in-a-needle, which is the world’s smallest microscope was developed by the team at UWA’s Optical + Biomedical Engineering Laboratory, in collaboration with clinicians from Royal Perth Hospital and Sir Charles Gairdner Hospital, and with support from Cancer Council WA, the Raine Medical Research Foundation, and an Innovator Grant from the National Breast Cancer Foundation.

This breakthrough technology is winning recognition around the world, and is a finalist in The Australian Innovation Challenge. You can vote for microscope-in-a-needle in the people’s choice category until 21 November 2015.