Experimental robot combines MRI and ultrasound for better breast cancer diagnosis

European researchers are currently developing a biopsy robot that they say “combines the best aspects of MRI and ultrasound” to improve the diagnosis of breast cancer and certain muscle diseases, according to a press release from the University of Twente (UT) in Enschede, Netherlands.

It is estimated that up to 20 percent of all breast cancer screening patients receive false-negative diagnoses using currently available screening techniques—a number that should be improved on significantly, said Foad Sojoodi Fariman, UT researcher and project applicant of the MURAB research project (MRI and Ultrasound Robotic Assisted Biopsy).

“If a mammography shows a suspicious image then we need to take a small piece of tissue for lab examination. But it’s difficult to determine precisely where the biopsy should be carried out,” said Fariman. “As a result we overlook too many patients who do indeed have a problem. That’s an issue we hope to solve.”

To tackle this problem, Fariman and his colleagues are collaborating with outside parties such as Siemens, KUKA and other universities in Verona and Vienna to build a biopsy robot that combines the safety and precision of MRI with cheaper imaging technologies such as ultrasound.

The result would be a reduction in MRI scanning time from 45-60 minutes to 15-20 minutes, as well as the ability to precisely target tissue for biopsy, according to researchers.

“This produces an offline MRI image that you can combine, during the biopsy, with online images from the ultrasound sensor,” said Farimani. “One of the biggest challenges in this project is to use the precise MRI image to locate suspicious tissue in the much more indistinct ultrasound image.”

While the university is working closely with Dutch hospitals on developing the technology, the biggest obstacle to success may not be the actual science behind the project.

“The robotics in this project might actually be the simplest issue," said Farimani. "Actually getting medical technology to market is often easier said than done."