SCREENING for prostate cancer is set to be transformed thanks to a Scottish university spin-out which has developed a device designed to boost the accuracy of early stage tests.

Diagnosis of the illness has typically relied on a doctor conducting a physical examination and prostate specific antigen testing, which often produces false positives.

Individuals with a positive result are referred for MRI scans followed by biopsies if there is still a concern.

These can be painful and lead to side effects including infection, bleeding and, occasionally, erectile dysfunction.

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Scientists at IntelliPalp Dx, based at Heriot-Watt University in Edinburgh, believe their new technology will identify cases that are significant and determine severity quickly, only sending those who are likely to have cancer for a scan and biopsy.

Fitted to the end of the index finger under a doctor’s glove, the device, called ProstaPalp, oscillates against the surface of the prostate to measure its firmness, which has been identified as an indicator of cancerous cells.

A computer code then takes the measurements and compares them with each other to produce a probability map of cancer distribution.

The accuracy of the system will also increase over time as it gathers and incorporates patient data from more people who undergo testing.

It is hoped the technology - already used on hundreds of individuals as part of a study funded by The Urology Foundation/John Black Charitable Trust - will provide more certainty and deliver quicker results.

Bob Reuben, co-founder of IntelliPalp Dx and professor of materials engineering at Heriot-Watt University, said: “Essentially, we are aiming to emulate the human sense of touch through a mechanical device to bring greater precision, repeatability, and objectivity to an area of primary healthcare that is heavily reliant on qualitative assessment. The same principles could be applied to other forms of human tissue assessment.”

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Professor Alan McNeill, co-founder and chief medical officer at IntelliPalp Dx, added: “Rather than relying on subjective assessment by the human finger, it will bring a level of reproducible objectivity to what was previously a qualitative measure and help the health service focus investigation and treatment on those who need it most.”

IntelliPalp Dx is now working with CENSIS, Scotland’s centre of excellence for sensor/imaging systems and the Internet of Things, to accelerate the process of bringing the test to market.

Michael Fletcher, business development director at CENSIS, said: “The ProstaPalp device is a great example of the ground-breaking medical research currently underway in Scotland, and the growing and evolving role that sensors are playing in and the growing and evolving role that sensors are playing in the healthcare sector.

“Deliverable at the earliest and most anxious stage of the process of diagnosing prostate cancer, it will have a significant positive impact on patient experience and help health services better focus attention and resources.

"The test will also allow a technology researched, designed, and made in Scotland to realise global impact and benefit.”