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Portable Ultrasound Device for Early Breast Cancer Detection

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Every year in the United States, approximately 264,000 women and 2,400 men receive a breast cancer diagnosis. Tragically, about 42,000 women and 500 men lose their lives to breast cancer annually in the U.S. It is important to note that the mortality rate for breast cancer is higher among black women than white women.

Experts said breast cancer’s survival rate is nearly 100% in the early stage. It is because early-stage breast cancer is more treatable, and the chances of successful treatment and recovery are high. However, it would become a 25% survival rate if the individual is diagnosed with the tumour at a later stage. It is because cancer has spread to distant organs and is more challenging to treat successfully.

To prevent the later stage by improving the survival rate, a team of MIT researchers has created a portable ultrasound device that enables the early detection of tumours. This innovative technology is especially beneficial for individuals with a high risk of breast cancer, as it identifies potential tumours between regular mammogram screenings.

The device is a pliable patch that can be affixed to a bra, enabling the wearer to slide an ultrasound tracker across the patch to image breast tissue from various perspectives. In the recent investigation, the researchers demonstrated that they could obtain ultrasound images with a level of detail comparable to that of the ultrasound probes utilised in medical imaging facilities.

According to Canan, an associate professor in MIT’s Media Lab and the study’s senior author, they redesigned the ultrasound technology’s physical form to make it suitable for home use. The device is portable, user-friendly, and offers real-time monitoring of breast tissue.

Canan found inspiration from her late aunt, Fatma Caliskanoglu, who, despite undergoing regular cancer screenings, was diagnosed with late-stage breast cancer at 49 and sadly passed away only six months later. While at MIT as a postdoctoral researcher, Dagdeviren envisioned a preliminary design for a diagnostic device that could be integrated into a bra, enabling more frequent screenings for individuals at a high risk of breast cancer.

This innovative approach aims to target those most susceptible to developing interval cancer, which refers to breast tumours that emerge between routine mammograms and make up about 20 to 30% of all breast cancer cases. These interval tumours are often more aggressive than those detected during scheduled scans.

Canan’s research group specialises in developing wearable electronic devices that can conform to the body. Her vision is to achieve more regular screenings using the device, aiming to increase the breast cancer survival rate to as high as 98%.

To turn her vision of a diagnostic bra into reality, Dagdeviren developed a compact ultrasound scanner that enables users to perform imaging whenever needed. The scanner utilises the same ultrasound technology found in medical imaging centres but incorporates a novel piezoelectric material, allowing the researchers to shrink its size significantly.

For the device to be wearable, the team designed a flexible, 3D-printed patch with honeycomb-like openings. This patch can be attached to a bra that has corresponding openings to allow the ultrasound scanner to make direct contact with the skin. The scanner is housed within a small tracker that can be easily moved to six positions, ensuring comprehensive imaging of the entire breast. Additionally, the scanner can be rotated to capture images from different angles, and its operation does not require any specialised expertise.

The researchers have an optimistic outlook on developing a workflow where artificial intelligence (AI) can be employed to analyse how ultrasound images evolve over time after gathering data from a subject. This approach can provide more precise and accurate diagnostics than traditional methods that rely on radiologists manually comparing images taken years apart. Additionally, the team intends to explore the possibilities of adapting ultrasound technology for scanning other areas of the body, expanding its potential applications beyond breast imaging.


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