Nottingham researchers unveil early diagnosis system for gastrointestinal cancers

Tuesday, 06 February 2024

Researchers from the University of Nottingham have developed a new spatial frequency domain imaging (SFDI) device for gastrointestinal cancer screening, promising enhanced accessibility and cost-effectiveness.

Gastrointestinal cancers (GC) are among the most common forms of cancer, accounting for more than one-third of all cancer deaths worldwide. Early diagnosis is crucial when it comes to reducing the mortality rate, with endoscopic screening proving to be an effective approach for detecting potentially fatal tumours.

To ensure as many people as possible can benefit from screening programmes, imaging systems should be cost-effective when it comes to manufacture and operation while still maintaining the vital accuracy required to minimise the likelihood of cancer going undetected.

Published in the Journal of Biomedical Optics, researchers from the University of Nottingham have developed an innovative SFDI device, which could help make GC screening more widely accessible to the general public.

In SFDI, a repeating 2D pattern of light is projected onto a target area. By examining the intensity of the reflected light patterns, information about the optical properties of the tissue under investigation can be uncovered, which can reveal the presence of cancerous lesions. Despite the simplicity and affordability of this imaging modality, current SFDI systems are too bulky to fit inside standard endoscopes, limiting their use in industry.

Existing systems are not fit for routine endoscopic deployment in the gastrointestinal tract because they either use digital micromirror device-based projectors, which are costly and cannot be sufficiently miniaturised, or use fibre bundles which produce low-quality patterns at a limited set of wavelengths and only record low-resolution images, or use rigid endoscopes that are not flexible enough.
Jane Crowley, co-author

Jane continued: "To overcome this, we designed an ultraminiature SFDI system that uses a custom-made optic fibre bundle as a projector and combined this with an ultraminiature camera. We also used a custom algorithm that tracks phase deviations in projected sinusoidal patterns, reducing noise in the captured absorption and scattering profiles.” 

Experiments with tissue phantoms mimicking the optical properties of healthy and cancerous tissues showed that the proposed device could provide excellent contrast between the two tissue types. The research also showed that the proposed system could be miniaturised further, allowing for minimally invasive endoscopic procedures.

Our prototype shows promise as a cost-effective, quantitative imaging tool to detect variations in optical absorption and scattering as indicators of cancer. This work could form the basis of new devices suitable for cost-effective endoscopic deployment for screening of gastrointestinal cancers.
George Gordon, co-author

To read the full paper in the Journal of Biomedical Optics, click here.

Story credits

More information is available from Danielle Hall, Media Relations Manager at the University of Nottingham, at or 0115 846 7156.

About the Faculty of Engineering:

Made up of six departments – Architecture and Built Environment, Chemical and Environmental Engineering, Civil Engineering, Electrical and Electronic Engineering, Mechanical, Materials and Manufacturing Engineering and Foundation Engineering and Physical Sciences – the university’s Faculty of Engineering is home to more than 5,600 students and 800 staff.

The faculty, which has educated engineers and architects for more than 140 years, was the first in the country to be accredited with an Athena SWAN Gold Award for excellence in advancing gender equality across higher education and research and is home to multiple state-of-the-art facilities, including the recently opened £40m Power Electronics and Machines Centre (PEMC).

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Danielle Hall - Media Relations Manager - Faculty of Engineering
Phone: 0115 846 7156

Notes to editors:

About the University of Nottingham

Ranked 32 in Europe and 16th in the UK by the QS World University Rankings: Europe 2024, the University of Nottingham is a founding member of the Russell Group of research-intensive universities. Studying at the University of Nottingham is a life-changing experience, and we pride ourselves on unlocking the potential of our students. We have a pioneering spirit, expressed in the vision of our founder Sir Jesse Boot, which has seen us lead the way in establishing campuses in China and Malaysia - part of a globally connected network of education, research and industrial engagement.

Nottingham was crowned Sports University of the Year by The Times and Sunday Times Good University Guide 2024 – the third time it has been given the honour since 2018 – and by the Daily Mail University Guide 2024.

The university is among the best universities in the UK for the strength of our research, positioned seventh for research power in the UK according to REF 2021. The birthplace of discoveries such as MRI and ibuprofen, our innovations transform lives and tackle global problems such as sustainable food supplies, ending modern slavery, developing greener transport, and reducing reliance on fossil fuels.

The university is a major employer and industry partner - locally and globally - and our graduates are the second most targeted by the UK's top employers, according to The Graduate Market in 2022 report by High Fliers Research.

We lead the Universities for Nottingham initiative, in partnership with Nottingham Trent University, a pioneering collaboration between the city’s two world-class institutions to improve levels of prosperity, opportunity, sustainability, health and wellbeing for residents in the city and region we are proud to call home.

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