Academic story

TU/e Enables Surgeons to See the Invisible

Leestijd: 5 min

Society has become dependent on the products produced by electrical engineering. From communications to healthcare, energy supply to mobility and production automation, it has impacted almost every aspect of our lives. Now it even allows surgeons to see the invisible and detect cancer non-invasively. 

Francesca Manni

A group of researchers in the Department of Electrical Engineering at Eindhoven University of Technology (TU/e) has achieved resounding success using a novel imaging technique to detect cancer in close collaboration with industry partners. We talked to Francesca Manni, a third-year PhD student who uses hyperspectral image analysis to detect cancer and improve surgical outcomes. 

TU/e offers research staff challenging assignments. What exciting projects have you worked on during the past 12 months? 

I’m trying to develop a novel optical imaging technique to enable a surgeon to see the invisible. In this case, the invisible is cancer. I’ve been working with the Netherlands Cancer Institute to help guide the surgeons detect and find the margins of head and neck cancer non-invasively. We increase the power of a normal camera and just use the light (hyperspectral imaging) to make the tumor visible. 

We developed this project with Philips Healthcare and I’m also working on another quite similar project with them. We’re applying computer vision, machine learning, artificial intelligence techniques, to spinal surgery. Spinal surgery is complex and the surgeon needs to be guided to know where to put his or her instruments. And so at the same time as we use the novel optical imaging technique to make the tumor visible, we also use it to track the patient position to help guide the surgeon. We’ve successfully been able to use the camera to achieve better patient tracking in a small study of 18 subjects. 

Working on research projects like these must be deeply satisfying. What are the next steps for these projects? 

The next step for the cancer detection project is to improve the algorithm to make it more accurate. We’re also looking at combining the imaging technique with different technologies that my colleagues at TU/e work on, like endoscopy. This is a very new field so now we plan to focus more on understanding the images we are acquiring.

We will also continue to work with our many partners. We’re collaborating with the Karolinska University Hospital in Sweden on the patient guiding project to improve patient tracking and outcomes for spinal surgery. We’re also starting a new collaboration for cancer detection with researchers in Dallas and the University of Gran Canaria. They’ve collected a lot of brain cancer data that we are going to use for a new, spin-off project to guide surgeons for brain cancer removal. 

TU/e’s contribution in these areas puts it in a class of its own. Would you recommend TU/e to other academics looking for a research position? 

TU/e has opened up a world of opportunity to me. As a young researcher, life couldn’t be better.

I’m working on really important projects, the funding is there, the links with industry are fascinating, and there are all kinds of opportunities for me to develop my career. 

Eindhoven’s buzz and nightlife is also very attractive for people my age. TU/e is an ideal place for people who want to engage in research of real societal value. 

Francesca works in the Visual Coding & Architectures group with Peter de With (left) and Assistant Professor Fons van der Sommen (center). (image: Bart van Overbeeke fotografie)

What makes TU/e special? 

From day one I’ve been impressed by how closely TU/e works with industry. After an internship with Philips Research in Eindhoven, I briefly returned to Italy. But Italian universities are not as close to industry as TU/e, so I’m pleased to be back in Eindhoven. I work on unique hyperspectral image analysis projects with a medical focus. We are part of a European project called ASTONISH (Advance Smart Optical Imaging and Sensing for Health) with many industrial partners.

TU/e has been very open about taking measures to improve gender equality in engineering. What has your experience at TU/e been like?

I work in the medical field where there tend to be a few more women, but the gender disparity is very visible in other departments. I’m part of the Women in Science - Eindhoven (WISE) Network, a networking group for women at TU/e. They run programs and workshops especially for female PhD/PDEng students and scientific staff. It’s a great network. It really helps you meet and get to know the other women at the university because we’re a bit spread out across the school. They are making a real effort to grow this community. 

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Gepubliceerd 2019-12-18

Uitgelicht - werkgever

We are an internationally top-ranking university in the Netherlands that combines scientific curiosity with a hands-on attitude.

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Francesca Manni

Francesca Manni is a PhD candidate in the Department of Electrical Engineering at TU/e. She received her BSc. and MSc. degrees (with the highest grade) in Medical Engineering from the University of Rome “Tor Vergata”. In 2015 she completed an internship at Philips Research, Eindhoven and in February 2017 she started her PhD at TU/e.

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