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Biopsy robot can perform both MRI and ultrasound

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Biopsy robot

A team of scientists in the University of Twente in the Netherlands are trying to create a biopsy robot that combines the best traits of MRI and ultrasound, in order to make the diagnosis of breast cancer and muscle diseases better.

According to UT researcher Foad Sojoodi Farimani, one of the project leaders of the European research project MURAB (MRI and Ultrasound Robotic Assisted Biopsy), current diagnostic techniques for the detection of breast cancer result in around 10 to 20 percent of patients wrongly being given a negative for the disease.

Farimani's aim is to reduce the number of false negatives that current techniques are currently causing. If a mammography shows a suspicious image, then what usually happens is that a piece of the tissue is being taken for a lab assessment. In this case, though, it is quite difficult to determine where the biopsy should be performed. What happens is that many patients who do have cancer are being overlooked.

Biopsy in MRI

One of the solutions that Farimani thought of is putting a biopsy in the MRI scanner. MRI does not generate any radiation, has no side effects, and you can determine very precisely where you should do your biopsy. But it's very expensive and it takes about 45 to 60 minutes per patient. Even wealthier countries can't afford any large-scale screening programmes with MRI, explains Farimani.


This led to UT researchers to collaborate with Siemens, KUKA and universities in Verona and Vienna in order to design a robot that combines the best properties of an MRI scan with cheaper and less precise techniques, such as ultrasound and pressure sensors.

Doing such, patients will only need around 15 to 20 minutes in the MRI scanner. This produces an offline MRI image that can be combined with online images from the ultrasound sensor while performing a biopsy. One of the biggest challenges in this project is to use the precise MRI image to locate suspicious tissue in the much more indistinct ultrasound image, says Farimani.

Other than breast cancer, Farimani and team are trying to make this possible for biopsy on muscle diseases. The end goal, of course, is to make this technology available for any disease that needs a small piece of human tissue for diagnosis.

Dutch hospitals such as Radboud University Medical Center and the ZGT hospital group are also collaborators in this research project. The UT is working with these institutions in order to determine how the technology can be brought to the market. The robotics involved in this project might actually be the least of their problems, notes Farimani. Actually getting medical technology to market is often easier said than done, Farimani adds.

The MURAB project is a relatively new project. Last November, the project was able to receive a Horizon2020 grant amounting to 4.3 million euros. Around 1.2 million euros are allotted to UT, which is in charge of managing the project. Aside from Farimani, professors Stefano Stramigioli, the project leader, and Ferdi van der Heijden are also assigned for project coordination. Both professors are members of the CTIT research institute in UT.