Fighting Cancer – Research of the Month

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Various diseases have threatened our world, some curable and some not so much. Cancer is one, that lies in somewhat of a gray region. It is the uncontrolled growth of abnormal cells which can be fatal if not restricted and its detection and treatment, till date, is not something that we have managed to achieve satisfactorily.

Priyansha Kaurav, a PG student at Centre for Applied Research in Electronics (CARE),  IIT Delhi who specializes in RF design and technology, has been working on bio-sensing of cancer cells using microwaves – from conceptualization of the idea and simulations to creating a database and potential prototyping. Her area of specialization is radio frequency and microwave, a field which when merged with biomedical engineering can help to overcome various challenges faced by biomedical science. Keeping this in mind, this project was assigned by her supervisors Prof. Shiban Koul and Prof. Ananjan Basu, CARE.

MOTIVATION:

One of the biggest gifts of technology has been the possibility of human life longevity. Scientists, researchers and doctors together, since times immemorial, have been struggling to find ways to detect cancer and cure it. The entire process and treatment can be painful and prolonged, and that too without the guarantee of success.

Priyansha Kaurav talks about her project, which was allotted to her as the major project for her Master’s degree completion this year, “Medical imaging systems, which are used to detect cancer, rely on magnetic resonance imaging, X-Ray, ultrasound and tomography technologies. Some of these technologies are ionizing in nature while others use complex algorithm and bulky setup. Microwave sensing involves non-ionizing electromagnetic waves technology, which is user friendly.

Also, Breast cancer in particular is becoming a serious problem nowadays. Mammography technique, which is used for to detect the breast tumor, is quite painful and only 80% efficient. So, microwave detection is a better alternative as it involves non- invasive and simple technique which gives instant results with great efficiency.”

ABOUT THE PROJECT:

This study is the integration of simulation and measurement methods which are combined together to result into a stepwise process to analyze tumorous tissue. It works on a simple concept, which states that there is a difference in dielectric constant between a normal tissue and tumorous one.

  1. Since tumor has high water content, it has more dielectric constant and if we are able to detect this difference by some means, tumor too can be detected.
  2. Transmission parameters vary with dielectric constant, so Priyansha worked on finding all the possible set of transmission parameters for various breast cells (normal and tumorous) keeping realistic breast phantom in between transmitter and receiver antenna using HFSS software.
  3. Then a database of all such set of parameters was made.
  4. Vector Network Analyser and waveguide adapter, as antennas, measured transmission parameters for the breast phantom kept between them.
  5. Then a comparison had to be drawn between the simulated and measured parameters. Those parameters, which were coinciding, corresponded to a particular value of dielectric constant. This made the detection of tumor possible.
  6. The entire experiment was performed on normal mice and mice containing tumor. The relevant data was consequently obtained.

 

TECHNICAL KNOW-HOW AND AID:

Priyansha elucidates upon what all technical knowledge and professional help, apart from her own studies, heImed her project, “In CARE, Centre of Applied Research in Electronics, I specialized in Radio Frequency and Microwave and so I used knowledge of the same for my measurement and simulation setup. I worked on MATLAB, a popular numerical computing software, for obtaining dielectric profile of tissues. I took help of Prof. Veena Koul in Biomedical Department for the provision of tumor cells. She played a major role in my project. She even arranged a meeting with Dr. Anurag Srivastava, Head of Department, surgery discipline in AIIMS, Delhi. He took keen interest in my project and motivated me to develop a prototype which can be taken directly to OPD to check for results.”

CHALLENGES FACED:

The primary challenge faced was the simulation of breast phantom to obtain transmission parameter database. It was difficult to obtain a realistic breast phantom, which in turn was so complex that it took Priyansha nearly 10 days to get the result for single simulation. And not just one, several simulations were done to obtain a database!. A little tweak in the simulation procedure resulted in another 10 days of waiting. Finally after constructing the database, the requirement was to get realistic tumor cells for verification of results.

Another challenge pertained to the computer services. The simulation work required a large amount of RAM on the computers, which were limited to 4GB. To counter this, RAM had to be added externally to the system she would be working on. This is one of the several intricacies that one needs to take care of when dealing with softwares and simulations.

The simulations were done on healthy and tumor affected mice, which had to be procured for the experiment. Here, Prof. Shiban Koul and Prof. Veena Koul resolved her problem by arranging specimens of these mice.

WHAT NEXT?

This is certainly not the end. Priyansha strongly feels that her project is incomplete without realizing it in the prototype form. She adds, “I have formulated the technique and the next step is to make a compact setup for the detection of tumor. This should be portable so that it can be carried easily to all the remote places which are still deprived of cancer detection technologies. Next, I wish to generalize this technique for all types of cancer cell detection like skin, blood etc. For this, a very large database of transmission parameters is required which is really a time-taking and tedious task. This technique can be combined with microwave imaging to get the exact location of tumor using the same setup for both.

I also plan to improve my project by making a compact measurement setup and combining it with microwave imaging. Currently, I have only formulated my idea about the same and intend to implement it on a more realistic scenario soon.”

We wish Priyansha Kaurav the very best for all her future endeavors and hope that she can inspire other students to tackle such interdisciplinary problems in the biomedical sector.

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