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Pink October: An Accurate Ultrasound Scanner That Fits Inside a Bra

Pink October: An Accurate Ultrasound Scanner That Fits Inside a Bra
Researchers at MIT developed a miniature ultrasound scanner that fits inside a bra and picks up images with the same accuracy as a hospital-grade machine. The device could help stop women from developing late-stage breast cancer despite regular screening. (Credit: MIT)

Researchers from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) developed a wearable ultrasound scanner that fits inside a bra and picks up images with the same accuracy as a hospital-grade machine. The device could be life-changing for at-risk patients who may develop cancer tumors in between routine mammograms and is set to be available to patients in less than four years.  

While sitting at the bedside of her dying aunt, scientist Canan Dagdeviren had an idea that could help stop other women from developing late-stage breast cancer despite regular screening. Her own aunt was diagnosed with late-stage breast cancer at age 49, despite having regular cancer screens. 

An associate professor of media arts and sciences at MIT, Dr. Dagdeviren designed a miniature ultrasound scanner that could allow the user to perform imaging at any time. She and her team then developed a flexible, 3D-printed patch, which has honeycomb-like openings. Using magnets, this patch can be attached to a bra that has openings that allow the ultrasound scanner to contact the skin. 

The ultrasound scanner fits inside a small tracker that can be moved to six different positions, allowing the entire breast to be imaged. The scanner can also be rotated to take images from different angles and does not require any special expertise to operate.

Using magnets, the flexible, 3D-printed patch can be attached to a bra that has openings to allow the ultrasound scanner to contact the skin. (Credit: MIT)
Using magnets, the flexible, 3D-printed patch can be attached to a bra that has openings to allow the ultrasound scanner to contact the skin. (Credit: MIT)

Dr. Dagdeviren told MedicalExpo e-magazine: 

“Wearable ultrasound patches could provide continuous or regular monitoring of the breast tissue, allowing for early detection or tracking of changes over time. This convenience could be especially beneficial for individuals who may find it difficult to access regular medical imaging appointments.

It could potentially offer real-time monitoring, allowing healthcare professionals to observe changes in breast tissue on an ongoing basis. This continuous monitoring might be particularly valuable in cases where rapid changes are expected, such as tracking the response to certain treatments.”

She added: 

“If wearable ultrasound patches can detect subtle changes in breast tissue earlier than other methods, they might contribute to earlier diagnosis and treatment, potentially improving outcomes for individuals with breast cancer.”

Early Diagnosis Is Key

Today, one in eight women will be diagnosed with breast cancer in her lifetime, but recovery chances are high if it is detected early and treated.

Traditional imaging methods, like mammography, can be uncomfortable or even painful for some individuals, and through the use of X-ray, they expose the patient to potentially harmful radiation.  Wearable ultrasound patches could provide a less invasive and more comfortable option and use non-ionizing radiation, which is generally considered safer.  

The researchers tested their device on a 71-year-old woman with a history of breast cysts. They were able to detect cysts measuring 0.3 cm in diameter, which is the size of early-stage tumors. They also showed that the device achieved a resolution comparable to that of traditional ultrasound. 

Scientist Canan Dagdeviren and her aunt who was diagnosed with late-stage breast cancer at age 49, despite having regular cancer screens. (Credit: MIT)
Scientist Canan Dagdeviren and her aunt who was diagnosed with late-stage breast cancer at age 49, despite having regular cancer screens. (Credit: MIT)

Following a successful human trial of the device on ten patients, the team is now awaiting FDA approval for a larger trial involving 100 participants. Dagdeviren is planning to launch a startup company to translate her research into real use for all women and anticipates that it will take less than four years for it to be available for patients to use.

Anantha Chandrakasan, dean of MIT’s School of Engineering and one of the authors of the study, explained: 

“This technology provides a fundamental capability in the detection and early diagnosis of breast cancer, which is key to a positive outcome. This work will significantly advance ultrasound research and medical device designs, leveraging advances in materials, low-power circuits, AI algorithms, and biomedical systems.”

In a global effort to raise awareness of breast cancer, October has been designated as the Pink Month.  The Pink Month is a month where efforts to educate those concerned about the disease, including early identification and signs and symptoms associated with breast cancer.

 

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