By Kuah Guan Oo
Photo by Noor Azreen Awang
SERDANG, 23 April (UPM) – The parts neatly laid out on the table are ready to be assembled to become a portable nuclear imaging diagnostic camera to detect breast cancer.
The difference of this proto-type machine the size of a large accordion, is that it uses angle-based gamma-ray detection instead of single angle based detection that will show up the tumour or cyst in 3-D, so that doctors can zoom in for a sample for a biopsy, the gold standard test for any cancer.
The device in the area of Single-Photon Emission Computed Tomography (SPECT) camera is the work of Assoc. Prof Iqbal Saripan, 33, the head of the Department of Computer and Communication Systems Engineering of the Faculty of Engineering of Universiti Putra Malaysia (UPM), and it has taken him more than 7 years to reach this stage of his research and passion.
He said it all started when he was accepted for a place under UPM’s tutorship programme after graduating with his B.Eng (Hons) degree in Electrical- Electronics Engineering from Universiti Teknologi Malaysia (UTM) in Skudai in 2001.
From here, he chose to go to the University of Surrey, United Kingdom, that is well-known for nuclear physics, where he pursued his PhD in medical image processing and where he completed his thesis on wire mesh collimator for gamma camera for his doctoral degree at age 26.
By then, he had not only gained some real hospital experience but had done a lot of groundwork to see how those multi-million ringgit nuclear imaging devices using 2D gamma-rays can be salvaged by switching to using portable gamma-ray for pin-point diagnostic accuracy in 3-D.
Like many other developing countries that employ these gamma rays machines, Malaysia has a few such machines for patients, each costing between RM5 million to RM10 million, and they are becoming obsolete.
The poser to the hospitals and Government then is whether to replace these machines to those using the latest but expensive nuclear imaging devices or to put new changes to these gamma-rays cameras. The modification can be done by replacing the collimators to improve the performance of the current gamma rays.
In comparison, Dr Iqbal said the typical X-ray machines do not use such high blast of energy as gamma-ray and they cannot “see” through bones, like gamma rays.
But gamma rays can only pin-point a tumour, or abnormal growth in the body, provided the body is injected with a weak and time-lapse radio isotope and the means where the gamma rays can be concentrated to produce the “image”.
This is where Dr Iqbal came up with his wire mesh collimator , a device that can improve the detection of gamma rays.
He said it had took him years of research works and on-site studies and discussions with the manufacturers like Toshiba and Siemens, and the medical doctors before he found the answers.
And in the process, he had one patent filed on the wire mesh collimators and a few national and international awards to his name.
He was given the Young Scientist award by Datuk Dr Ewon Ebin, the Minister of Science, Technology and Innovation in November last year, while the Academy of Sciences Malaysia recognised him a month later (in December) as one of the top Research Scientists in the country.
Dr Iqbal said he had received some foreign enquiries about his patents and he is presently working on patenting another one of his work.
“I would say that 80 to 90 percent of my research work and publications are on nuclear imaging devices,” he said.
Right now, he and his team are ready to put together his proto-type portable gamma-ray or SPECT camera for breast cancer detection.
The testing will be done at a hot lab facility in the country.
With inputs from his team of researchers, the portable SPECT camera can be used for young ladies and lactating mothers. “The camera can be used for breast of any volume,” he said with a grin. -- UPM
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