A new company has been founded that aims to detect colorectal cancer more quickly and efficiently. MiWEndo Solutions is a spin-off promoted by the BCN Medtech research unit of UPF in collaboration with the UPC, Hospital Clínic and ICREA. The company is developing a low-cost medical device for use during colonoscopy to identify malignant polyps, the precursors of cancer, using microwave technology. The incorporation of the company, which took place yesterday, was attended by the eight founding members and the UPF general manager, Jaume Badia; the rector of the UPC, Francesc Torres; the manager of the Clínic Foundation for Biomedical Research, Rosa Vilavella, and the ICREA executive director, Emilià Pola.
Colorectal cancer is a very common disease among the over-50s. To detect it in its early stages, when it is easier to treat and can be cured, screening programmes have been established. Screening ends with a colonoscopy, during which physicians use a camera to check if there are any polyps in the patient’s colon and if any are found, they remove them to prevent them from developing into cancer. The problem is that these lesions are not always easy to find because of the limited visibility in colonoscopies.
The solution to this problem is being developed by MiWEndo Solutions. It is a small accessory that will be placed at the end of the colonoscope and will have a series of sensors that will scan the large intestine. The tool will thus be able to detect if there are any polyps and determine the degree of malignancy. When it finds such lesions, it will immediately notify the physicians so they can locate them visually, as with conventional colonoscopy.
The device will therefore be compatible with the methods currently applied to colonoscopy and, in addition, will offer several advantages. On the one hand, it will detect polyps automatically and, therefore, the procedure will not be reliant on visibility or the practitioners’ medical experience. On the other hand, theimmediate diagnosis of the status of polyps will more quickly determine how urgent the need is to treat each patient in order to prioritize the most serious ones. In the long term, this could ease the workload of hospital pathology departments, which currently have to analyse a large number of samples.
The promoters of the project have already produced a prototype and have demonstrated that it is able to locate polyps in human tissue automatically. From now on, the company aims to develop the product, conduct the necessary clinical trials to adapt it to the requirements in order to market it from mid-2023 in Europe, the US and Japan (the countries with the highest incidence of colorectal cancer and where most colonoscopies are conducted).
UPF has supported the creation of the company in view of its commitment to transfer knowledge and technology to society. It has done so via its transfer office, the Innovation Unit - UPF Business Shuttle, and the UPF Ventures innovation management company, driven and participated in by the University itself.
An innovative solution
“When I began exploring the idea of applying microwave to endoscopy, I was not at all sure whether it made sense from the medical point of view or if it would be technologically feasible; then we started working and we began to find that there is a medical need and that technology does allow this, so we launched this project”, explains the MiWEndo Solutions CTO and UPF researcher, Marta Guardiola.
Glòria Fernàndez, an endoscopist at the Hospital Clínic and CMO of the company, highlights the benefits of improving the methods used in programmes for the early detection of colon cancer: “We know that colonoscopy is not infallible, and the use of a microwave-based accessory will help us to overcome the limitations of endoscopic diagnosis as we know it today”.
Meanwhile, the company’s CEO, Ignacio Belda, stresses that MiWEndo Solutions is developing “an innovative solution for an unsolved medical and social problem” and expresses his desire that “hospitals around the world will be able to apply this technology to quickly diagnose colon cancer more effectively”.
According to Jordi Romeu, a researcher at the UPC’s research centre for Communication and Detection (CommSensLab), “the interaction of microwaves with biological tissues is an area in which we have worked for different applications, and we think that in the case of colon cancer they may provide differential elements of diagnosis that will be cutting-edge on the international stage”.
Throughout its development, the project has received the support of various initiatives promoting knowledge transfer such as the ‘Seed’ and ‘Product’ grants from the Catalan Government’s Knowledge Industry programme or the Technological Development in Health programme of the Carlos III Institute of Health. It has also received aid from several programmes promoting acceleration, such Caixaimpulse, an initiative of the La Caixa Foundation. Moreover, the researchers have demonstrated the scientific basis of its technology through the publication of several articles in high impact international journals.
 Guardiola, M., Buitrago, S., Fernández‐Esparrach, G., O'Callaghan, J. M., Romeu, J., Cuatrecasas, M., Córdova, H., González Ballester, M. Á. and Camara, O. (2018), “Dielectric properties of colon polyps, cancer, and normal mucosa: Ex vivo measurements from 0.5 to 20 GHz”, Medical Physics, 45: 3768-3782.
 Guardiola, M., Djafri, K., Challal, M., González-Ballester, M.A., Fernández-Esparrach, G., Camara, O., Romeu, J. (2019), “Design and Evaluation of an Antenna Applicator for a Microwave Colonoscopy System”, IEEE Transactions on Antennas and Propagation, 67 (8): 4968-4977. https://ieeexplore.ieee.org/document/8631178