One hundred million frames per second camera to further cancer research

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The Rosalind Franklin Institute, based in Oxfordshire, UK, has begun a project to build the world’s most advanced high-speed video camera for imaging tissue in cancer research.

The camera will be able to capture up to 100 million frames per second at 1 megapixel resolution, and operate across a wide optical spectrum from ultraviolet to infrared.

It will be used to further researchers’ understanding of a new cancer drug delivery method using ultrasound. Imaging at such high frame rates, the researchers will be able to see how ultrasound interacts with drug-loaded particles and tissue, and how that enables controlled uptake of drugs into cancer cells. The camera will help researchers understand the biophysical mechanisms behind the drug delivery method.

The new instrument will be developed through a collaboration between an academic team at the University of Oxford and a UK-SME specialising in high-speed imaging, Invisible Vision. Once completed, it will be housed at the new Rosalind Franklin Institute (RFI) being built at the Harwell Research Complex in Oxfordshire for use by researchers in the UK and the rest of the world. 

Chemotherapy is one of the most common treatments for cancer, using powerful drugs to kill cancer cells or stop them from growing and spreading to other parts of the body. These drugs are introduced into the bloodstream and absorbed into the surrounding tissue.

Professor Eleanor Stride from the University of Oxford explained: ‘A major challenge with current delivery methods for cancer drugs is that they rely on the active molecules reaching and entering the tumour cells by diffusion. This makes it difficult to ensure that all parts of a tumour are treated and leads to terrible side effects because large volumes of healthy tissue also absorb the drug. We need to find a better way to get these drugs into cancer cells specifically, quickly and effectively.’

She continued: ‘The approach we’re developing introduces harmless particles into the bloodstream and then uses ultrasound to activate them, in order to both release the drug at a specific site and helping to drive it into the tumour to reach all of the cells within in it.’

The new instrument will be a key part of the core capability of the RFI’s Insight laboratory, which will be devoted to developing technology for imaging and therapy at the intersection of light and sound.

Professor Stride added: ‘Most current devices are limited to the optical part of the spectrum or look at specific wavelengths. This camera will be flexible, able to look at the full spectrum from ultraviolet to infrared, which means we’ll be able to see more detail and get higher resolution images than ever before. It will help us see how the ultrasound affects the particles, and how exactly it helps improve the drug delivery and allow us to develop the treatment to make it more effective.’

Currently, the fastest long-record-duration framing cameras in the world best suited for these applications are still mechanical, operating at speeds of 25 million frames per second. The new camera will be smaller and more compact, around the size of a conventional video camera.

Once completed, the instrument can be configured in a variety of ways and applied to broad range of problems in materials science, plasma physics, combustion, sonochemistry, photoacoustics, biological membrane dynamics and fluid dynamics.

The Rosalind Franklin Institute is a new UK national institute, formed through a joint venture between ten UK university partners and the Science and Technology Facilities Council. It will have its central hub at the Harwell Campus.

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