In a collaboration expected to greatly change thyroid cancer in terms of diagnosis and treatment, the European Commission has begun funding an innovation action jointly with the Photonics Public-Private Partnership. The project focuses on a handheld probe utilizing both laser and ultrasound technology. The European Commission is pouring 4 Million Euros (4.4 Million Dollars) into the LUCA project — a collation of doctors, radiologists, and scientists working together to develop a low-cost screening that can be done in a doctor’s office.
The cost of unnecessary thyroidectomies in the EU is estimated at 450 Million Euros ($500 million) a year. Thyroidectomies have become commonplace as nodules appearing on the thyroid and are a common predictor of cancer. The biopsy methodology currently in use lacks the exactitude doctors would prefer, and this leads to the thyroid being removed as a “just in case” measure.
Estimates of as much as 30% of European Adults (which is near 130 million) have a thyroid nodule and of those almost 20% (which is 150,000 people) will have an invasive surgical procedure to remove their thyroid when there was no threat. They will suffer the pain of surgery and the loss of their thyroid, a gland that regulates a vast array of processes in the body. It also cost the EU a bit of money — an estimated 3000 Euro ($3,200) per operation.
The dual modality of the probe — laser and ultrasound — will allow for a much more complete picture of the nodule, giving doctors detailed images of its physiology and thus great information on whether to operate or not. The optical innovations utilized by the probe are known as Diffuse Correlation Spectrograph and Time Resolved Spectrograph. Diffuse Correlation Spectrography is particularly useful as it can allow doctors to see variations in the thyroid, changes manifesting as angiogenesis and hyper-metabolism, both of which are possible signal of cancer.
Partners in the four-year LUCA project are also examining if the diagnostic device they are creating could have applications for other forms of cancer.