University of Wollongong researchers have been granted a United States patent for a probe that can pinpoint the presence of cancerous tissue in the body.
The Dual Radiation Detector also has important non-medical applications including the ability to help identify radioactive material in cargo.
Co-inventors Professor Anatoly Rozenfeld and Dr Michael Lerch from UOW's Centre for Medical Radiation Physics have been working on the invention for nearly a decade.
Now it's patented, they are looking for a business partner interested in producing a commercial prototype to get it a step closer to use in real situations.
"This radiation device is capable of contributing strongly to inter-operative procedures involving radio-guided surgery monitoring of cancer patients," Prof Rozenfeld said.
"It can be put into the hands of surgeons so that during surgery for breast cancer for instance, they are able to detect if there are cancerous cells in the lymph nodes.
"They can then decide whether that patient needs a mastectomy or whether they are able to just remove the cancerous tumour from the breast."
Prof Rozenfeld said while there were sophisticated devices already in use to image cancerous tissue - like gamma cameras and positron emission tomography - they were often expensive and bulky and not suitable for use in operating theatres.
"This device is compact, inexpensive and quick and easy to operate," he said. "Having the device in the hand of the surgeon means that they can make sure they remove all the cancer tissue."
The probe - called Liana after Prof Rozenfeld's wife - is also unique in that it uses a special dual photo-detector and dual scintillator which enables it to distinguish between radiation emissions from different sources.
Co-inventor Dr Michael Lerch said UOW was also working with the Australian Nuclear Science and Technology Organisation to explore whether the technology could improve border security.
"If people are trying to smuggle illicit radioactive material, they try to hide or mask it by covering it with medical isotopes."
"This technology will allow border security personnel to more accurately pinpoint the low-grade radioactive waste within a large background of such material. It is also portable," Dr Lerch said.