Photo: Björn Forsman​​​​

New lab will provide better diagnosis and treatment of diseases

Better diagnosis and treatment of a wide range of diseases – everything from stroke and epilepsy to cancer and trauma. That is the goal of the new research laboratory Sahlbec, which is now inaugurated. 
The lab will be used for two promising techniques. The use of microwaves for medical purposes, and the use of superconducting sensors to register the extremely weak magnetic fields generated by electrical signals in the body.

In a technical sense, it can be said that Sahlbec lab is about achieving maximum shielding. This applies to electric and magnetic fields. But from another point of view, the purpose is the exact opposite. Namely to integrate medical technology research at Chalmers University of Technology and the University of Gothenburg with the activities at Sahlgrenska University Hospital. Not least to make it easier for patients participating in clinical trials. That is why the location of the laboratory is so important.

"And the location has really become incredibly good. Just a few steps to the right behind the hospital's main entrance, right next to the radiology," says Henrik Mindedal, Director of MedTech West. He is the Project Manager for the new laboratory, which with peripherals and installations cost just over SEK 15 million to build.

The laboratory is as large as a normal studio apartment and about half the area is the facility's main area: The screened room. A room with floor, walls and ceiling which consist of several layers of aluminium and so-called Mu metal, placed at certain mutual distances from each other. What is achieved with this unique construction technology is a room that effectively stops both electromagnetic radiation – for example radio waves – and magnetic fields. And the shielding works in both directions. Nothing escapes, nothing seeps in.

Researcher Andreas Fhager the driving force from Electrical Engineering

SahlBEC Lab 1.jpg
Photo: Björn Forsman

​Andreas Fhager, Associate Professor of Biomedical Electromagnetics at the Department of Electrical Engineering at Chalmers University of Technology, is one of the researchers who pushed for the realisation of SahlBEC Lab – and his group at Electrical Engineering will be among the first to use the facility. 

"Among other things, we have a project led by Associate Professor Hana Dobsicek Trefna that is about using hyperthermia, which is heating with microwaves, to treat cancerous tumours. For example, tumours in the neck and head or brain cancer in children," he says.

By directing microwaves from different directions, the tumour can be heated up to between 40 and 44 degrees, without affecting the surrounding, healthy tissue. The tumour is kept warm for at least 60 minutes and the treatment can be repeated several times.

"With the heat treatment, the regular cancer treatment, in the form of radiation or chemotherapy, becomes more effective. You can thus achieve the same result with a lower dose and thereby reduce the side effects," says Andreas Fhager.

Diagnostics using microwaves
Another technology, where he has his own research focus, is about diagnostics using microwaves. There are several medical applications here, for example in case of stroke or trauma, where it is important to quickly detect and locate bleeding in order to provide the right treatment before it is too late. Breast cancer tumours can also be diagnosed in a similar way, which means that you do not have to use X-rays.

"I would think that it will be in one of these areas that we start the first clinical study at Sahlbec lab," says Andreas Fhager.

Researchers in magnetoencephalography, MEG, will also use the laboratory. The group is led by senior lecturer Justin Schneiderman at the University of Gothenburg. Here, too, there are connections to Chalmers University of Technology. The technology involves mapping the electrical signals in the brain's neurons by capturing the extremely weak magnetic fields that are generated. Researchers at Microtechnology and Nanoscience have contributed with the superconducting sensors required. The method has great potential, for example in the diagnosis and treatment of epilepsy. Today there is only one MEG system in the country, at Karolinska in Stockholm.

"Normally, liquid helium is used to cool the sensors and make them superconducting. The advantage of the sensors developed at Chalmers University of Technology is that they become superconducting at a significantly higher temperature. This means that we will be able to cool with liquid nitrogen instead. Then we can move the sensors closer to the skull and thus capture weaker magnetic signals than has been possible so far," Justin Schneiderman explains.

At the inauguration, it emerged that in the longer term, it is also hoped to be able to use similar detection of magnetic fields to study diseases of the human heart, such as arrhythmias.

Text: Sandra Tavakoli

Contact information
Andreas Fhager, Associate Professor at the Department of Electrical Engineering and Head of unit at Biomedical Electromagnetics, Chalmers. 

Page manager Published: Tue 07 Dec 2021.