Scarring Probe

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A cartoon depiction of our scarring probe, FIB ONE

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The Problem

Scarring, or ‘fibrosis’, is a natural part of the body’s healing process after illness or injury, designed to repair wounds if the normal process fails. Scar tissue results from an excess of a protein called collagen, which are connective fibres that provide structural support between skin, muscle and nerve cells.

Although the collagen itself remains unchanged after injury, what does change is how it lays itself out. Instead of a random formation akin to a basket-weave found in normal tissue, scarring sees the collagen align in a single direction. This singular alignment results in the area of tissue becoming thicker and stiffer, creating the the tell-tale raised bump of a scar.

A photo showing a scar on a hand

In the lungs, scarring can build up around the tiny air sacs known as alveoli, making it difficult for the patient to take in oxygen and therefore breathe. Fibrosis may occur across large parts of the lung as is the case with idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis (IPF; which means that the cause of scarring in the lungs is unknown), or it can occur in much smaller patches, such as around tumours

Currently, the diagnosis of conditions involving fibrosis relies on a number of different measures, including lung biopsy, and available treatments following diagnosis are often limited. As such, if clinicians can detect areas of scarring around suspected or confirmed lung cancer (for example), it can help provide an early and accurate diagnosis for the patient.

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The Solution

Tiny amounts of chemical Smartprobes will be sprayed into the deepest parts of the human lung, emitting light, also known as ‘fluorescence, in the presence of a particular enzyme called MMP – a protein that is released in excessive amounts when scar tissue is present, in an attempt to break it down.

The fluorescence is then detected using tiny fibre optic tubes that are inserted deep into the patient’s lung through a bronchoscope, and shown on a screen at the patient’s bedside within a couple of minutes.

The Method

In case of fibrosis, three particular types of MMP protein are secreted: MMP-2, MMP-9 and MMP-13. The FIB ONE Smartprobe is designed to detect each of these

This video was created by Ellie Cawthera, with contributions from Hannah Stewart and Caroline Lyth
(MSc Science Communication and Public Engagement at the University of Edinburgh)
Royalty-free music from Bensound.com