TWO DEVICES built by scientists from St George’s Hospital have reached the final of an NHS contest for new medical technology.

The inventions, one of which offers a more accurate test for genetic conditions such as Down’s syndrome in foetuses, were developed by medical physicists Professor Dariush Nassiri, Dr Alan Britten and Mr Val Newey.

The devices both scooped runners up prizes at London’s first NHS Innovations Awards two weeks ago and are now being tipped to improve the diagnosis and treatment of children and women up and down the country.

Professor Nassiri’s invention – the Nuchal Translucency Measurement Tool (NTMT) – automatically measures genetic irregularities in the foetus during an ultrasound scan.

Tests have shown that the automated Tool is seven times more accurate than the current method used to measure a pocket of fluid on the developing foetus called the nuchal fold.

The thickness of the fold is a tell-tale marker of chromosomal conditions such as Down’s syndrome.

The current method used to measure thickness relies on the ultrasound operator marking out by hand the area of the fold on the scanner’s display screen for the computer to then measure.

His colleague Dr Britten’s Gamma Probe Simulator (GAPS) trains surgeons how to perform a procedure for treating breast cancer which uses a radioactive dye to trace the extent to which cancer has spread into the body’s lymph nodes.

Few surgeons are trained to use radiation-detecting equipment. So the simulator provides surgeons with the necessary clinical experience without the need for patients to be present or for them to be exposed to radiation.

The support systems for both devices were designed and developed by Mr Newey.

Medical companies are now queuing up to market the prize-winning inventions to other hospitals. The Royal College of Surgeons has even purchased four of the GAPS simulators, produced in conjunction with a British company called Southern Scientific, to be used in regional training centres across the UK.

The hospital’s chief executive Peter Homa congratulated them and said:

“Professor Nassiri, Dr Britten and Mr Newey have taken their ideas forward with great skill and ingenuity, and developed products that will be of practical and lasting benefit to doctors and patients up and down the country.

“They are to be congratulated for their outstanding achievement not only for reaching the final of the contest but also for the imaginative way they have responded to the diagnostic and surgical problems encountered by their consultant colleagues.”

St George’s was the only NHS organisation in London that had two devices reach the final of the competition.

Notes to editors

Gamma Probe Simulator: Developed by Dr Alan Britten and Mr Val Newey:

The computer simulator trains and assesses the competence of surgeons in a procedure called a sentinel node biopsy.

A sentinel node is the first lymph node into which a tumour drains and is therefore the first place to which cancer spreads. In breast cancer, the sentinel node is usually located in a group of lymph nodes underneath the arm.

Standard surgical treatment involves removing the tumour and most of the axillary nodes but finding the sentinel node can be hard.

The way round this is for surgeons to inject a radioactive tracer near the tumour and then use a gamma detector to find the node in which the tracer has accumulated.

However, surgeons are not usually trained to use radiation-detecting equipment so the simulator trains surgeons without the need for patient access or exposure to radiation.

3. Nuchal Translucency Measurement Software: Developed by Professor Dariush Nassiri and Mr Val Newey:

The software is an automated method of detecting genetic problems in the foetus.

Doctors routinely screen foetuses for chromosomal ‘abnormalities’ between the 11th and 14th weeks of pregnancy by using an ultrasound machine to measure the translucency of a pocket of fluid called the nuchal fold. The thicker the fold, the more likely it is that the foetus is developing a genetic condition such as Down’s Syndrome.

The standard technique used by doctors to measure the translucency is to mark out an area of the machine’s display screen manually.

However, the operator’s visual perception and the settings of the scanner can affect the accuracy of the measurement and therefore the diagnosis.

Nassiri’s solution was to write a software program with Val Newey that would measure the fold automatically without the need for operator input.

As a result, the automated system gives women much more reliable information about the health of their baby and the risk it faces from genetic conditions such as Down’s syndrome.