Vibrational Spectroscopy


We would like to express our thanks to North West Cancer Research for funding the project.

Members of the research team:

  • Dr Danielle Bury is a consultant histopathologist with a specialist interest in lung cancer and currently on the NHIR research scholar’s programme.
  • Professor Francis Martin who has worked for many years in the field of spectroscopy looking at different cancer types and brings his knowledge and experience to the project.
  • Dr Saba and Dr Bongers are respiratory physicians both with a working knowledge of lung cancer patients and treatments.
  • Andrew Dickinson is a post-doctoral research assistant with experience in multivariate analysis techniques and an interest in the field of spectroscopy and chemometrics.


Video Transcript:

Vibrational spectroscopy is a technique that has been around for many years. It is an umbrella term that covers two main techniques, Raman spectroscopy and Infrared spectroscopy. These use different types of light from a laser shined onto a sample. This sample may be from a variety of places, including saliva, urine or tissue. The interaction of the light arising from the sensor with the chemical bonds within the sample produces a digital ‘fingerprint’ of the parts that make up the sample. This includes proteins, lipids and nucleic acids such as DNA or RNA, these are effectively the building blocks of the sample. This digital fingerprint is called a spectrum. Spectra obtained consist of numerical data. This gives rise to the exciting possibility of using this data to build predictive computational algorithms – meaning the long streams of numbers fed back from the machine can be put into computer programmes. These computer programmes build models of the results allowing the programme to analyse the numbers and say if the sample contains cancer or not. No other reagents are needed to use this method, and the sample is unharmed after allowing it to be tested again.

Our hope, by doing this study, is to help move this technology from the lab, into the screening programme to deliver a rapid lung cancer-screening tool, for example as a point-of-care test. Such a development would have enormous beneficial impact facilitating earlier diagnosis and consequently, markedly improved prognosis.

Lung cancer remains the third most common cancer in the UK, with rates in Blackpool of approximately 160 new cases per year. Whilst rates across England have fallen, those within the Blackpool area have remained consistently above average, which is why Blackpool has been chosen by NHS England to be one of the proposed new sites for a lung cancer screening programme. People thought to be at risk of lung cancer will be invited to a lung health check, either in person or over the telephone and based on these results, some people will be sent for a CT scan.

Our study aims to test a new method of detection for lung cancer, that we hope could be used in future as part of a screening test, designed to pick up lung cancer earlier, maybe even before someone displays symptoms. This could allow people to be treated earlier, with the aim of improving survival rates of people with lung cancer.

For this study, participants who have been selected for lung cancer screening will attend a lung health check. If, as a result of the health check, a CT scan is recommended, participants will be invited to take part in the study. If the participant agrees to take part, they will be asked to provide a saliva sample in a pot. The saliva would then be tested, using a hand-held infrared spectrometer. Following computer analysis can identify those participants with cancer and those who are cancer free. The results from this test would be compared to the CT scan performed earlier to see if this new tool is able to detect those participants with cancer.

As participants who are cancer-free outnumber those with cancer, we need to involve all participants being scanned in order to provide a large number of non-cancer samples to make sure the machine is accurate. The spectroscopy results would not play a role in the participant’s diagnosis or treatment as this test is being developed to ensure accuracy within this study.