Chemistry Related
Audrius Brazdeikis, right, UH research associate professor of physics, confers with London surgeon Dr. Michael Douek about a unique procedure for staging and treating breast cancer. UH and University College of London teams developed a probe to enable surgeons to better detect the spread of breast cancer, and Douek is conducting a clinical trial of the device in England.

Photo: Mark Lacy
High-temperature superconductors hold the key to a handheld surgical tool that promises to be more accurate, cost-effective, and safer than existing methods for staging and treating various cancers, including breast cancer.

Audrius Brazdeikis, research associate professor of physics in the College of Natural Sciences and Mathematics who heads the Biomedical Imaging Group at the Texas Center for Superconductivity at the University of Houston (TcSUH), and Quentin Pankhurst, University College of London, professor of physics, have developed a novel detection procedure combining nanotechnology and advanced magnetic sensing based on high-temperature superconductors. The researchers produced the ultrasensitive magnetic probe to detect minuscule magnetic fields in the body, allowing surgeons to more effectively locate the sentinel lymph node—the first lymph node to which a tumor’s metastasizing cancer cells will drain.

The probe is a supersensitive magnetometer—an instrument used to track the presence of clinically introduced magnetic nanoparticles. During breast cancer surgery, a surgeon will inject a magnetic nanoparticle dye into the tumor or into tissues surrounding the tumor.

A $250,000 grant received from the United Kingdom Department of Trade and Industry under the UK-Texas Bioscience Collaboration Initiative required the pair to show “proof of concept” by building a device and showing it worked. An ethics committee in the UK since has approved the detection procedure for a clinical trial of women undergoing breast cancer surgery at University College Hospital, London.

Dr. Michael Douek, a London surgeon who is a breast surgery specialist and a senior lecturer at UCL, is overseeing the trial and used the probe for the first time in surgery this past December. An ethics committee gave the hospital permission to use the probe in 10 surgeries, and after a review of those procedures, the number could increase to 100.

Brazdeikis expects to start new clinical trials in Japan and Europe before year-end. “Our technique will be extensively validated by different surgeons in various countries,” he said.

© University of Houston 2007