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Details of Grant 

EPSRC Reference: EP/M002535/1
Title: Engineering Fellowships for Growth: Robotic Navigation for the Human Lung
Principal Investigator: Cantillon-Murphy, Dr P
Other Investigators:
Yang, Professor G
Researcher Co-Investigators:
Project Partners:
Department: Institute for Global Health
Organisation: Imperial College London
Scheme: EPSRC Fellowship
Starts: 01 August 2014 Ends: 31 July 2019 Value (£): 863,492
EPSRC Research Topic Classifications:
Intelligent & Expert Systems Med.Instrument.Device& Equip.
Robotics & Autonomy
EPSRC Industrial Sector Classifications:
Related Grants:
Panel History:
Panel DatePanel NameOutcome
12 Mar 2014 Engineering Fellowships for Growth - Robotics Announced
Summary on Grant Application Form
Lung cancer is the most common cause of cancer deaths in both men and women in the UK. Smokers are at especially high risk. Unfortunately, the outlook for lung cancer patients is not good. This is mainly because lung cancer is often detected too late. Early detection is critical to successful cancer therapy and this is particularly important for lung cancer. The most significant challenge in the early detection of lung cancer is the absence of technology which is capable of safely accessing the outer airways where early stage cancer is most likely to occur. This project looks to solve this problem.

The project involves the design, construction and testing of the world's first lung robot; a computer-controlled and virtually-navigated system which can allow clinicians to reach further out into those outer airways than is currently possible with endoscopic techniques. Today, lung doctors rely on either endoscopy or surgery to find out whether suspected nodules seen in CT scans are actually due to cancer. Endoscopy is quite successful for biopsy of lymph nodes and for cancer in the upper airways such as tracheal cancer. However, current bronchoscopes are too large to pass far into the airways and the instruments used are not easily steered to a suspected tumour target. This leads to relatively low success rates (that is, biopsy which leads to diagnosis) in suspected nodules far from the centre airway. Unfortunately, early stage cancer is more likely in the narrower, peripheral airways which often cannot be accessed by endoscopy. An alternative approach is surgery when lung collapse is not uncommon (5-20% of cases depending upon the hospital and the location of the tumour) during biopsy. Clinicians will often avoid surgery because of the added risks to the patient. Instead, patients may be sent home with a 'wait and watch' prognosis, with regular CT scans to monitor tumour growth. This is often a harrowing experience for patients which leaves them feeling helpless.

Endoscopic navigation of the lung is ideally suited to robots because (1) the airways are closed paths, (2) all steering decisions are binary (left or right at each new airway branch), (3) there is invariably a prior patient image (CT scan) available and, (4) the airway walls are extremely elastic making risk of puncture very low. We believe that robot navigation represents a viable and high-potential solution for accessing peripheral lung airways. Our robot will bring together advanced computer vision technology to visualise the lung in virtual reality during navigation, smart materials which can be flexibly controlled to navigate the robot, and advanced sensing technology which will provide position and, potentially, diagnostic information of the suspected nodule without the need for a needle sample. Our system will be designed and tested at the Hamlyn Centre in Imperial College in the pre-clinical environment to verify safety and technical feasibility. We will work closely with our clinical collaborators at Royal Brompton Hospital to develop a technology platform which can serve this critical clinical need as well as with experts at the Hamlyn Centre across sensor, navigation and vision technologies. Finally, this project will also see the integration of the Fellow into the Hamlyn Centre for Robotic Surgery and facilitate significant opportunities for his career development through the creation of new research synergies within Hamlyn and its collaborative robotics community.

Key Findings
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Potential use in non-academic contexts
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Date Materialised
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Organisation Website: http://www.imperial.ac.uk