Startup comes up with radiation-free infra-red device to detect cancerous lymph nodes

Several breast cancer survivors complain that their hands swell a few years after operation and it becomes difficult for them to raise their arms due to lymph nodes removal in their armpits to ensure that the cancer does not spread.

As there was no affordable technique to detect when the lymph nodes turn cancerous, doctors had been removing them. However, the removal of good lymph nodes as a preventive method will now be history as a bengaluru-based medical technology startup, Irillic, has come up with a hand-held device — Irillic .nm Fluorescence Imaging System — to detect cancerous growth of lymph nodes.

The infra-red device can scan body parts within no time of injection of a benign contrast dye called Indo-Cyanine Green (ICG) which can detect any abnormal growth in a lymph node that is untraceable otherwise. Besides, no nuclear isotope needs to be injected while using the device to detect abnormal growth.

A similar device made in the US and Japan is already available in the market, but it is not as affordable as this Indian version which also has better image quality and ease of use. “We aimed to produce a cancer-care product free of nuclear radiation,” said B.D. Vijaya, CEO of the JP Nagar-based Irillic. It took three years to develop a completely indigenous imaging device used in cancer and other surgeries. The radiation-free device is the creation of co-founders of Irillic, Navaneeth Mohanan and Saish Kamat, both alumni of National Institute of Technology, Surathkal.

Lymphedema can be detected by ICG fluorescence lymphography at the earliest, without using nuclear radiation. Since the only device currently available in the market to detect cancerous lymph nodes uses radiation and requires permission from Atomic Energy Regulatory Board, it could not penetrate into rural areas. Also, the spatial dimensions of the abnormal growth could not be provided by this device.

“The radiation device and its consumables are expensive, costing no less than Rs 30,000 per use. Of the 350-400 cancer hospitals in India, not more than 40 have it. In the absence of an affordable detective tool to zero in on the sentinel lymph node that may or may not have been affected by cancer, surgeons used to remove the nodes among breast cancer survivors. Irillic device can be used by surgeons in rural areas with minimal infrastructure for cancer detection,” said Vijaya.

The technology is quite inexpensive and costs less than Rs 10,000 per test. It is already being used by leading surgeons at two hospitals in Bengaluru. The machine has just been launched in the market, but is being used in hospitals as part of a trial run. “We’re in the process of obtaining a patent,” said Vijaya. It has been used on over 280 patients by doctors with whom the company has a clinical evaluation agreement.

The Association of Breast Surgeons of India has appreciated this indigenous innovation. The president of the association and chairman-HoD of oncology at Manipal Hospitals, Dr S.P. Somashekar, told that less than 5% of breast cancer patients in India undergo tests to detect sentinel lymph nodes.

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