UPMC Hamot is continuing to be a national leader in using cutting-edge technology to better diagnose and treat lung cancer.

In 2018, UPMC Hamot became the first hospital in the nation to use new robotic technology revolutionizing the diagnosis and treatment of lung cancer. Known as the Monarch™ Platform from Auris Health, it was designed to detect early lung cancer. It allows doctors to diagnose and eventually treat hard-to-reach nodules in the lungs with greater precision.

Now, UPMC Hamot has added another technology to help in the robotic bronchoscopy procedure. The CelTivity™ Biopsy System from Aquyre Biosciences allows surgeons to evaluate tissue samples taken during a biopsy in the operating room, without needing to send them to the lab. That allows for a quicker evaluation — often within two minutes — and potentially faster lung cancer diagnoses.

Led by Stephen Kovacs, DO, UPMC Hamot began using the CelTivity system during robotic bronchoscopy procedures in April 2022. UPMC Hamot became the first hospital in Pennsylvania and one of the first nationwide to incorporate the technology. Through November 2022, more than 100 robotic bronchoscopy procedures using CelTivity took place at UPMC Hamot.

“It’s a very big deal,” says Dr. Kovacs, chief, Pulmonary Medicine, UPMC Hamot, and co-director, UPMC Hamot Comprehensive Lung Program. “It allows us to have a further level of sophisticated technology and evaluation at the time of lung nodule biopsy for lung cancers. To show the kind of vision and dedication that UPMC Hamot has toward the earliest possible diagnosis of lung cancer, we have invested in technologies that help us with that goal.”

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How Does Robotic Bronchoscopy Work?

The Monarch™ Platform is a surgical scope with a pair of long arms and a long, blue tube attached. The physician uses it to steer a camera and other surgical tools deep into the lungs. A video screen helps the physician to navigate areas in the lung that previously were unable to be seen.

Once a suspected tumor is found, it’s identified with a target. Then a small needle is used to take a tissue sample or biopsy.

For many years, before robotic bronchoscopy, pulmonologists used navigational bronchoscopy to reach tumors in the recesses of the lungs. That procedure uses a thin, tube-like instrument with a light and a lens for viewing the lungs and air passages to navigate the airways. While this handheld scope technology was effective in the diagnosis and treatment of cancer, researchers felt there was room for improvement.

Robotic bronchoscopy provided that improvement.

“This is unlike anything we’ve been able to do before,” Dr. Kovacs says. “Lung cancer mortality rates are as high as they are because the cancer has progressed before we can find it. This technology is exactly what we need to definitively get a biopsy and make these detections sooner.”

How CelTivity Works

CelTivity allows surgeons to evaluate a tiny tissue sample taken during a lung nodule biopsy in the operating room.

When the surgeon takes the tissue sample, they place it on a microscope slide and put it through the CelTivity system. The system uses different computer algorithms to evaluate the tissue. It evaluates the size and activity of the tissue and produces a result in under two minutes. That allows the surgeon to see whether they are performing the biopsy in the right place.

“Cancer cells and cells that have more of a malignant etiology typically show more activity, especially compared to the surrounding cells,” Dr. Kovacs says. “And we can see that now at the time of biopsy. We get those images back on average in about 90 seconds.

After confirming that they are in the right place, surgeons can continue the bronchoscopy procedure — taking as much tissue sample as they need.

Before CelTivity, surgeons sent the tiny lung nodule sample to the lab for evaluation, which added time to the procedure. The benefit of CelTivity is it allows for faster evaluation and potentially faster diagnosis.

“It allows us to really confirm while we’re doing the procedure that our biopsy tools are in the right spot and we’re getting good adequate tissue so that the diagnosis can be made as quickly and as efficiently as possible,” Dr. Kovacs says.

How Earlier Lung Cancer Diagnosis Saves Lives

The early and accurate diagnosis of lung cancer is critical. According to the American Cancer Society, lung cancer is the leading cause of cancer deaths — more than breast, prostate, and colon cancer combined. But many lives could be saved with earlier detection.

“As a minimally invasive diagnostic procedure, it offers patients the most efficient process to stay ahead of their cancer,” Dr. Kovacs says.

With a dedicated team of interventional pulmonologists, thoracic surgeons, and medical oncologists working closely together, patients who need treatment therapies will get the help they need much sooner. Earlier detection can lead to earlier treatment, saving lives.

“The last thing we want is for a patient to experience delays in their treatment,” says Jan Rothman, MD, medical oncologist, UPMC Hillman Cancer Center. “The ability to treat a patient earlier, offer a more effective therapy, and work with Dr. Kovacs and his team has resulted in tremendous improvement in patient outcomes.”

UPMC Hamot: Taking the Lead

Nationally known for his expertise in interventional pulmonology, Dr. Kovacs and the team at UPMC Hamot have been working to build an comprehensive lung center to serve the growing number of people needing respiratory care throughout the region.

Robotic bronchoscopy with CelTivity, in conjunction with UPMC Hamot’s lung cancer screening program, is aimed at helping patients get the care they need — close to home.

“People often think these types of medical advancements are only found in big academic medical centers in big cities,” says Theresa Kisiel, executive director, UPMC Heart and Vascular Institute at UPMC Hamot. “UPMC Hamot is leading the charge with this technology, and it’s helping us to become a destination for advanced lung cancer care.”

Dr. Kovacs says he hopes this technology will give him and his team the chance to help more patients across the region and show them what UPMC Hamot has to offer. He expects technology to continue evolving, allowing for faster diagnosis and better results.

“I’m honored to be on the forefront of this,” Dr. Kovacs says. “We have the expertise, technology, and the best health system with a vision to keep improving. It feels good to put Erie on the map for something so good.”

For more information on the UPMC Hillman Cancer Center services at UPMC Hamot, visit us online.

Editor's Note: This article was originally published on , and was last reviewed on .

About UPMC Hillman Cancer Center

When you are facing cancer, you need the best care possible. UPMC Hillman Cancer Center provides world-class cancer care, from diagnosis to treatment, to help you in your cancer battle. We are the only comprehensive cancer center in our region, as designated by the National Cancer Institute. We have more than 70 locations throughout Pennsylvania, Ohio, and New York, with more than 200 oncologists – making it easier for you to find world-class care close to home. Our internationally renowned research team is striving to find new advances in prevention, detection, and treatment. Most of all, we are here for you. Our patient-first approach aims to provide you and your loved ones the care and support you need. To find a provider near you, visit our website.

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