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CSIRO working on software tool for early cancer detection

Scientists at CSIRO's Data61 unit are working on a software tool that could help in faster detection of angiogenesis — the development of new blood vessels — which is known to precede the growth of cancers.

The organisation said the new algorithm could lead to earlier detection and improved success in rates of treatment.

Data61 teamed up with the Shanghai Institute of Applied Physics, Chinese Academy of Sciences, to produce images of mice brains and livers at various stages of cancer growth.

After analysing 26 high-resolution 3D micro-CT images from 26 mice, produced by the Shanghai Synchrotron Radiation Facility, the scientists came up with an algorithm that would create a true picture of the vasculature, preserving information about the length and shape of the blood vessel and its branches.

The hurdle facing further progress is that the beam used to produce the images generates radiation levels unsafe for human imaging.


A comparison of the enhanced blood vessel prior to skeletonisation (left) and after the end-point skeletonisation process (right).

To proceed with human clinical trials, researchers are seeking 3D imaging technologies and partnering with a hardware manufacturer who can produce high-resolution images with safe levels of radiation.

The generation of detailed blood vessel information was done using a technique called end-point constraints which preserves geometrical features of new blood vessels, including branching patterns and the lengths of terminal vessels.

Until now, high-resolution imaging has only been able to generate skeletonised views of blood vessel structures, which had little detail and accuracy.

Anti-angiogenesis treatment aims at preventing cancers from growing blood vessels.

Cancer Council Australia chief executive Professor Sanchia Aranda said: “This exciting project seeks to bring to life the tumour micro-environment through 3D synchrotron images of the vessels and will help to advance our understanding of this critical cancer progression process.

“The hope is that through improved understanding new opportunities to disrupt angiogenesis will be identified and open pathways to new treatments.

"If we can stop cancers spreading we can reduce the number of people who die from the disease.”

Dr Dadong Wang, lead researcher on this project from Data61’s Quantitative Imaging team, said: “Our robust algorithms for the early detection and quantification of angiogenesis could potentially be a great step forward in the detection and treatment of cancer,” Dr Wang said.

“However, they can also be applied to a wide range of other applications, such as analysis of 3D neurite outgrowth for drug development.

“While there is great interest in taking these findings further, there is still a long way to go before this new development can be applied to human patients.

"But we are very hopeful, and currently looking for collaborators and partners to take the technology to the next stage.”

Images: courtesy CSIRO.


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Sam Varghese

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A professional journalist with decades of experience, Sam for nine years used DOS and then Windows, which led him to start experimenting with GNU/Linux in 1998. Since then he has written widely about the use of both free and open source software, and the people behind the code. His personal blog is titled Irregular Expression.