12 March 2019

 Revolutionary technology developed at UCL Engineering that guides surgeons performing biopsies and improves prostate cancer detection has been featured on CBS News in America.

The SmartTarget technology combines MRI scans with ultrasound images to better pinpoint prostate cancer and provide surgeons with a precise location to biopsy. With 1 in 8 men estimated to get prostate cancer in their lifetime, the potential impact of improved treatment and early diagnosis for millions of patients worldwide is vast.

Professor David Hawkes (Wellcome/EPSRC Centre for Interventional and Surgical Sciences), a computational scientist and member of the UCL team that developed SmartTarget, was one of the first patients to benefit from this when the software was used to diagnose his own prostate cancer three years ago and played a vital role in his treatment. Interviewed by CBS Philly about his experience he says, “For anybody who is diagnosed with the likelihood of cancer, it’s quite a shock. But it did give me the opportunity to have that technology used on me”. The news segment can be watched in full here on CBS’ website.

The software has been evaluated on hundreds of patients to date, including 129 men who took part in a targeted prostate biopsy trial at University College London Hospital (UCLH) during which the software successfully diagnosed more than 90 percent of prostate cancers. Dr Dean Barratt (UCL Medical Physics and Biomedical Engineering/CMIC/WEISS), who invented and led the system’s development, explains “We developed the SmartTarget system to equip surgeons with vital information about the size, shape and location of prostate tumours during a biopsy that is otherwise invisible on ultrasound images.”

“The software provides them with a clear target. As MRI-targeted biopsies require a very high degree of expertise and experience, we hope that the imagery displayed by SmartTarget will help to bring high accuracy prostate cancer diagnosis to a much wider range of patients and hospitals.” 

The team that made this research possible was highly interdisciplinary, involving engineers, computer scientists, clinicians, clinical trial co-ordinators, health economists, and business experts from across UCL, UCL Business PLC (UCLB), and the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine.  The UCL clinical leads were Professor Mark Emberton (UCL Medical Sciences), Professor Caroline Moore (UCL Medical Sciences), and Professor Hashim Ahmed (now at Imperial College London). The technology is based heavily on the patented research of Dr Yipeng Hu (UCL Medical Physics and Biomedical Engineering/WEISS) and Rachael Rodell (SmartTarget Ltd) is the lead software engineer responsible for the commercial software product. The SmartTarget software has been commercialised by SmartTarget Ltd, a company spun out by UCL’s commercialisation company UCLB and the system has been in use by several hospitals in the UK and USA.

Additional reading:

‘The SmartTarget Biopsy trial’ research paper in European Urology