E-finger: a tactile diagnostic device with microscale resolution

Lead Research Organisation: University of Edinburgh
Department Name: Surgical Sciences


An approach is proposed to the in vivo assessment of soft tissue quality using multi-scale mechanical measurements. The approach is applied to prostate gland compliance (as measured by dynamic modulus, E) using a micro-engineered probe for the detailed assessment of prostate cancer (PCa) building on our earlier work applied to benign prostatic hyperplasia (BPH). We have previously shown for the first time that a relationship exists between the mechanical and histological characteristics of the prostate in vitro. We wish to apply our findings to the in vivo setting, with the development of a remote palpation instrument for in vivo measurement of prostatic compliance in malignant disease. Such a device is likely to lead to major advances in the diagnosis, assessment and surveillance of men with PCa and emphasis is therefore placed on minimum levels of invasiveness. It is also expected that the study will result in a novel medical instrument and associated design paradigm of generic value for other applications where a remote or minimally-invasive measure of tissue quality is desired. The work will emphasise the importance of probe size and will investigate the interface between meso- and micro-scale measurements (tissue-level) and micro- to nano-scale measurements (cell-level) and a simple method for producing a range of probe sizes and levels of resolution is outlined.The projected is expected to deliver:- the first in vivo mechanical measurement of dynamic modulus- the first micro-scale in vivo mechanical measurement- the first approach applied to prostate compliance which integrates trans-urethral, trans- rectal and laparoscopic measurements- the first study of mechanically-assessed prostate tissue quality which uses a large number of patients A major feature of the work is the co-operation of clinicians and medical and engineering academics focused onto a problem with potential huge implications for the ageing population. The impact plan aims top exploit the immediate application to urology through two key industrial partners and a strong engagement with the UK and European urological community. A separate group will be established to examine the transfer of the findings to other medical specialisms, including hepato-biliary surgery and gastro-enterology.


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Hammer S (2017) Quantitative mechanical assessment of the whole prostate gland ex vivo using dynamic instrumented palpation in Proceedings of the Institution of Mechanical Engineers, Part H: Journal of Engineering in Medicine

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Palacio-Torralba J (2015) Quantitative diagnostics of soft tissue through viscoelastic characterization using time-based instrumented palpation. in Journal of the mechanical behavior of biomedical materials

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Palacio-Torralba J (2016) Patient specific modeling of palpation-based prostate cancer diagnosis: effects of pelvic cavity anatomy and intrabladder pressure. in International journal for numerical methods in biomedical engineering

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Palacio-Torralba J (2018) A novel method for rapid and quantitative mechanical assessment of soft tissue for diagnostic purposes: A computational study. in International journal for numerical methods in biomedical engineering

Description 1. We have developed a family of mechanical probes capable of assessing the distribution of cancer in the prostate 2. We have tested theses probes in patients under anesthesia 3. We have found that there is a relationship between conventional clinical measures of prostate cancer and the mechanical measurements we make 4. We have established the way to design these probes at a range of different scales for different cancer applications 5. We have complied a set of measurements of the mechanical response of prostates in normal and diseased condition which is world-leading in terms of its scope.
Exploitation Route To better assess the progress of prostate cancer in a way that can be applied with regularity throughout the process of diagnosis and treatment. To use dynamic instrumented palpation more generally to assess human tissue, particularly for cancer diagnosis.
Sectors Healthcare

Description We are in the process of commercialising an early emobodiment of the palpation probe for digital rectal examination (DRE), which we call iDRE (instrumented Digital Rectal Examination). The PIs on this grant (Reuben) and the related grant (EP/I020101, McNeill) are in the process of setting up a spin out company that will be called IntelliaPalp Dx Ltd. We are in advanced stages of securing a Collaborative Research Grant from CENSIS and have entered in the ScottishEDGE competition. The grant from from prostate cancer charities (the Urology Fund and John Black Trust) that funded a pre-clinical study on over 450 urology patients at various stages in the diagnosis and treatment of prostate cancer has provided data that we believe justifies the commercialisation of the technology through IntelliPalp Dx. We have developed a team to support the commercialisation through IntelliPalp Dx and have recently completed the CAP3 approval process of Heriot Watt University.
First Year Of Impact 2016
Sector Healthcare
Impact Types Societal,Economic

Description Horizon 2020 SME Instrument 2014
Amount € 71,429 (EUR)
Funding ID 718244 
Organisation European Commission 
Sector Public
Country European Union (EU)
Start 04/2016 
End 10/2016
Description MRC Confidence in Concept
Amount £69,000 (GBP)
Organisation University of Edinburgh 
Sector Academic/University
Country United Kingdom
Start 11/2016 
End 11/2017
Company Name Palpation Diagnostics Ltd 
Description Company was set up specifically to exploit and early outcome from EPSRC Grants EP/I019472 and EP/I020101, viz and instrumented Digital Rectal Examination (iDRE) device. In its early stages, the company is concerned to consolidate its IP associated with the device, prior to a wider share issue. 
Year Established 2015 
Impact Main impact will be in the clinical exploitation of dynamic instrumented palpation as a diagnostic instrument for prostate cancer.
Description Launch of surgical robot at Western General Hospital 
Form Of Engagement Activity A press release, press conference or response to a media enquiry/interview
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Supporters
Results and Impact Launch of new surgical robot at Western General Hospital, organized by Prostate Scotland as the result of it Blue Horizon Appeal. Attended by senior NHS managers, politicians, practitioners and patients. Associated press article in the Times (Scotland) Technology Supplement authored by McNeill and Reuben (21 Nov 2016)
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2016
URL http://www.prostatescotland.org.uk/robot-appeal