UCL spin-off showcases pioneering device to breast cancer surgeons

5 January 2010

SentiMag device in use

A UCL spin-off company has given a global audience of surgeons and oncologists a glimpse of a pioneering breast cancer treatment device.

Endomagnetics Ltd is commercialising a magnetic sensing platform developed at the London Centre for Nanotechnology at UCL and the Texas Centre for Superconductivity at the University of Houston.

The company launched its first product, the SentiMag™ – an intra-operative device to locate the breast’s sentinel lymph node – in front of 8,500 surgeons and oncologists at the annual San Antonio Breast Cancer Symposium in Texas in mid-December 2009.

Professor Quentin Pankhurst, who co-founded the company, said the response from the audience had been “overwhelmingly positive” and “validated the core Endomagnetics proposition of offering a surgeon-friendly and cost-effective alternative to radioactive materials for the treatment of breast cancer”.

Globally, 1.25 million new cases of breast cancer are diagnosed each year. With lifestyle changes, this figure is increasing by around 20,000 cases year on year across the developed and developing world. In nearly all cases, surgery is required to remove the tumour. During the surgical procedure it is desirable to locate and remove the sentinel lymph nodes – by keyhole surgery – and to then inspect them to determine whether the cancer has spread to other sites in the body.

The current method of sentinel node detection involves injecting a radioactive dye into the lymph around the tumour, which passes through the lymphatic system and collects in the sentinel nodes; the surgeon then uses a hand-held gamma probe to locate the node.

However, the use of a nuclear medicine-based solution – one that involves radioactivity – presents hospitals with a significant and expensive logistical burden. In addition to this, patients have frequently found the injection of a radioactive dye to be painful.

Endomagnetics has developed an innovative detection system based on magnetics rather than radiation, where the dye is replaced by a Food and Drug Administration-approved magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) contrast agent and a novel hand-held magnetic sensor replaces the gamma probe.

The Endomagnetics solution simplifies the pre- and post-operative hospital procedures for sentinel lymph node biopsy, as surgeons are freed from the constraints imposed by the use of radioactive materials.

The underlying technology could also be applied to other medical markets including the staging of lung, prostate and colon cancer, of which there was a total of 2.63 million cases per annum in North America, Western Europe, Japan and Australasia in 2007.

During the summer of 2009, UCL Business PLC, UCL’s knowledge transfer and technology commercialisation company, led an initial investment round of £350,000 into Endomagnetics Ltd, securing financial support from, among others, the Combined London Colleges University Challenge Seed Fund and the Bloomsbury Bioseed Fund.

Dr Steven Schooling, Director of Engineering & Physical Sciences at UCL Business, said: “The Endomagnetics team have worked incredibly hard to ensure that a working system could be showcased at San Antonio. Further effort will be needed to ensure a successful commercialisation outcome, however I am most encouraged by the feedback from leading breast cancer surgeons who stopped by the Endomagnetics stand.”

For more information about Endomagnetics Ltd, the London Centre for Nanotechnology or UCL Business, follow the links above.

Image: Computer graphic showing SentiMag device in use


UCL context

UCL Business plc is the access point to the wealth of innovation and intellectual property emanating from UCL, and offers a number of services to assist the technology development process, from consultancy through to collaborative research, IP licensing and the creation of spinout companies and joint ventures to maximise the commercial potential of new discoveries, materials and processes.

UCL Business is part of the university’s enterprise agenda. The university is committed to sharing and developing our finest research in partnership with industry, so that we can bring the benefits of our research to as many people as possible. Our academics provide expert consultancy and training to businesses, large and small, and we in turn aim to foster entrepreneurial awareness among our staff through a dedicated department.

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