August 28, 2020

The tools behind the treatment: Building image-guided devices for more accurate and effective cancer procedures

OICR-supported researchers develop multi-purpose AI algorithm to help track needle placement and improve the accuracy of several image-guided treatment techniques

Dr. Derek Gillies and Jessica Rogers
Dr. Derek Gillies and Jessica Rodgers

Cancer patients often encounter many needles, some of which are used to collect tissue samples or deliver therapy directly to a tumour. Specialists who carry out these procedures are trained to place needles precisely in the correct location, but what if we could give these specialists a real-time GPS for needles? Would biopsies be more accurate? Could needle-related therapies be more effective?

Dr. Aaron Fenster’s lab is working to develop tools for these specialists to guide their needles and ultimately improve the accuracy of biopsies and therapies for patients. In their recent paper, published in Medical Physics, they describe their new deep learning method to track needles in ultrasound images in real time.

“It may be surprising to many individuals, but a lot of these procedures are still done based on skill alone and without image processing,” says Dr. Derek Gillies, medical physicist in training and co-first author of the paper. “We’re working to provide clinicians with tools so they can better see their needles in real time rather than going in blind for some procedures.”

The deep learning methods presented in this paper are applicable to many types of needle procedures, from biopsies – where a clinician draws a tumour sample from the body – to brachytherapy – where a clinician delivers radiotherapy directly to the tumour. The methods could also be applied to several cancer types including kidney cancer, liver cancer and gynecologic cancers.

“Developing artificial intelligence algorithms requires a lot of data,” says Jessica Rodgers, co-first author of the paper and PhD Candidate at Western University’s Robarts Research Institute. “We didn’t have a lot of imaging data from gynecologic procedures, so we decided to team up to develop a method that could work across several applications and areas of the body.”

“That’s the most exciting aspect of this effort,” says Gillies. “To our knowledge, we were the first to develop a generalizable needle segmentation deep learning method.”

Now, members of the Fenster lab are working to integrate these algorithms into the video software equipment used in the clinic.

“Our work is giving clinicians new tools, which can help them make these procedures more precise and more accessible,” says Rodgers. “These tools could ultimately help lead to fewer missed cancer diagnoses and fewer patients with cancer recurrence.”

Read more about OICR’s Imaging Program, or the latest OICR Imaging news.

March 12, 2020

Dr. Aaron Fenster named to the Order of Ontario

Dr. Aaron Fenster

OICR Imaging Program co-director, Dr. Aaron Fenster, awarded the province’s highest honour

OICR congratulates Dr. Aaron Fenster who was recently appointed to the Order of Ontario – the province’s highest honour.

The Order of Ontario recognizes individuals whose exceptional achievements have left a lasting legacy in the province, in Canada and beyond.

“Members of the Order of Ontario exemplify, individually and collectively, the best qualities of good citizenship,” said Her Honour Elizabeth Dowdeswell, Lieutenant Governor of Ontario. “Through their voluntary service, creativity, and the relentless pursuit of excellence, they demonstrate how we in Ontario are working to build a more just and sustainable future.”

Aaron Fenster and an imaging device prototype

In Fenster’s case, that means developing new medical imaging technologies and the infrastructure for new inventions to help more patients, sooner. Over four decades of medical imaging research and development, Fenster has invented dozens of new techniques, systems and devices that help scientists better understand cancer and clinicians deliver better treatment.

One of his systems for ultrasound image-guided prostate cancer treatment is in use around the world. Another one of his image-guided systems that could improve the accuracy of gynecologic cancer treatment is currently in clinical trials.

Fenster, who is a scientist at Robarts Research Institute and a professor at Western University, is well-recognized in the community for his commitment to translational research. For him, having the greatest impact on the health of patients requires collaboration across disciplines, industries and geographies to work on common challenges.


We work across disciplines like engineering, biology, physics and computer science, to design the best solutions. We work with clinicians, surgeons and radiologists to ensure these solutions can help patients. This is a special community.

Dr. Aaron Fenster

The programs Fenster has established, including OICR’s Imaging Program, have helped train the next generation of researchers who will continue to improve how we diagnose and treat cancers for years to come. Fenster’s imaging program in London – which he built from scratch – now includes more than 250 researchers and staff, including more than 100 graduate students.

“I am honoured to be named to the Order of Ontario,” Fenster said in an interview with the Schulich School of Medicine & Dentistry. “Although I will receive this honour, my staff and students deserve all the credit.”

The Lieutenant Governor bestowed the honour upon the newest Order of Ontario appointees during an investiture ceremony at Queen’s Park on March 11.

Read more about OICR’s Imaging Program or the latest Adaptive Oncology news.

September 25, 2018

Breast cancer radiotherapy in a single visit provides more convenient option to patients, reduces burden of therapy

Seeds used in radiation therapy are shown, along with a penny to provide scale.

Cross-Canada research team moves image-guided ultrasound system into clinical development

Traditional breast cancer radiation treatment requires multiple hospital visits over a period of weeks or months, which may be onerous to patients who live far from hospitals or in remote communities. An alternative radiotherapy technique, Permanent Breast Seed Implantation (PBSI), requires only a single hospital visit, but it involves the implantation of multiple small radioactive metal pellets into the breast of the patient within millimetres of a target. The procedure to administer this treatment is difficult to plan and complex to execute – impeding the adoption of PBSI in the clinic.

Continue reading – Breast cancer radiotherapy in a single visit provides more convenient option to patients, reduces burden of therapy

August 9, 2017

CIMTEC appoints Justin Leushner as new CEO

The Centre for Imaging Technology Commercialization (CIMTEC) has appointed Mr. Justin Leushner as Chief Executive Officer. CIMTEC was established to accelerate the development of medical imaging technology and commercialize new technologies. Leushner brings extensive experience in both the private and public sectors. Most recently he was the Vice President at the TechAlliance of Southwestern Ontario, where he and his team worked with more that 300 companies in the region.

Continue reading – CIMTEC appoints Justin Leushner as new CEO

March 8, 2017

In London, OICR leaders discussed cancer research advancements being made in the city. How can OICR help further translate these breakthroughs to patients?

London, Ontario

Ontario’s wealth of cancer research expertise is not limited to one city or region. Innovations from researchers and clinician-scientists across the province are changing the approach to cancer worldwide. London is one of Ontario’s major cancer research nodes and boasts a particular strength in developing medical imaging technology. The city is home to the Lawson Health Research Institute, Robarts Research Institute and the Centre for Imaging Technology Commercialization. Life science and biotechnology research is the source of $1.5 billion in economic activity for the city annually.

Continue reading – In London, OICR leaders discussed cancer research advancements being made in the city. How can OICR help further translate these breakthroughs to patients?