Breakthrough at Tyndall revolutionises surgical navigation for cancer

Prof Pádraig Cantillon-Murphy, Tyndall and UCC

First sensor-on-a-chip will allow clinicians to navigate inside the human body


Prof Pádraig Cantillon-Murphy, Tyndall and UCC

A groundbreaking development by researchers at Tyndall National Institute and Microelectronics Circuits Centre Ireland (MCCI), based at University College Cork (UCC), is set to transform surgical navigation. In a significant breakthrough, researchers have developed the first sensor-on-a-chip for magnetic tracking in surgery and other image-guided interventions. 

This development accelerates a move away from reliance on harmful radiation imaging (x-rays) towards a safer, more precise approach to navigating medical instruments within the body.

Traditional image-guided interventions often use x-rays for navigation of instruments. However, a pioneering technology known as ‘magnetic tracking’ is revolutionising clinical practice by minimising the dependency on x-rays, while accelerating the use of surgical robotics and image-guidance.



Magnetic tracking uses low-frequency magnetic fields, similar to everyday devices like electric motors and radios, to precisely detect the position of tiny sensors inside the patient. However, existing sensors are complex to manufacture, they are expensive, and are extremely delicate. 

Preliminary results published in the IEEE Transactions on Biomedical Circuits journal report tracking accuracy of less than a millimetre, making the new sensor the most accurate on-chip sensor to date for navigating instruments inside the body. 

Researchers were able to demonstrate the use of the chip for tracking instruments inside the lungs, an important application for effective targeting and treatment of diseases like lung cancer, which is the leading cause of global cancer incidence and mortality. 

The sensor is manufactured using standard silicon chip technology resulting in a simplified manufacturing process. Silicon chips are cost-effective at scale allowing the technology to be manufactured at a fraction of the cost of existing medical sensor technology. Silicon chips are also easily integrated with the latest flexible circuits, making assembly quick and reliable. 

Pádraig Cantillon-Murphy, Professor of Biomedical Engineering at Tyndall and UCC, who led the research team, said: “This represents the culmination of 10 years development of magnetic tracking technology at Tyndall and UCC. I’m immensely proud of the team’s achievements over that time and we look forward to translating this technology to clinical applications where it can make a significant difference in patient outcomes.”

Marcus Kennedy, Professor of Medicine at Cork University Hospital and President of the Irish Thoracic Society, who has been collaborating with Tyndall and UCC, said: “Magnetic navigation has huge potential in helping with the diagnosis of diseases like lung cancer. Accurate and low-cost access to peripheral lung cancers via bronchoscopy provides a pathway towards not only safe and low-cost biopsy, but also endo-bronchial treatment of lung cancer without the need for invasive surgery. However, the high costs of robotic-assisted interventions and the cost per tracked instrument are prohibitive in most countries. This on-chip sensor could be a real game changer for navigation in bronchoscopy and many other image-guided interventions.”

TechCentral Reporters

Read More: medtech research UCC

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