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This Ultrasound Bra Could Detect Cancer Sooner

by Elijah
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This Ultrasound Bra Could Detect Cancer Sooner

In 2015, Canan Dağdeviren was working as a postdoc at MIT when she learned that her aunt, Fatma, had been diagnosed with an aggressive form of breast cancer. Dağdeviren, whose work focused on building flexible devices that could capture biometric data, flew to the Netherlands to be with her relative in those final moments.

At her aunt’s bedside, Dağdeviren sketched out an idea for an electronic bra with built-in ultrasound that could scan breasts much more often and catch cancer before it had a chance to spread.

It was simply a way to offer her aunt some comfort during an unimaginably difficult time. But when Dağdeviren became a faculty member at MIT the following year, the bra remained on her mind. Today, she is an assistant professor of media and arts at the MIT Media Lab, where she leads the Conformable Decoders research group. Her laboratory’s mission is to harness and decode the physical patterns of the world. This includes creating electronic devices that adapt to the body and record data.

Six and a half years later – delayed by funding issues and technical hurdles – Dağdeviren has finally managed to bring that ready-made sketch to life. Her team’s latest invention is a wearable, flexible ultrasound patch that sits in the cup of a bra and is held in place by magnets. “Now the technology is not a dream on a piece of paper, it is real, that I can hold and touch and put on people’s breasts and see their abnormalities.”

Breast cancer screening is an imperfect science. The best method doctors use is a mammogram, which is usually performed every two to three years for women once they turn 40 or 50. A mammography involves taking an X-ray, which means the radiation limits how often the test can be done. And boobs are, well, boob-y. The procedure involves pressing the breast tissue between two plates, which is not only uncomfortable but can deform a tumor if there is one, making it more difficult to image. Mammograms also may not detect cancer as well in women with dense breast tissue.

But the ultrasound patch Dağdeviren and her team created — a palm-sized honeycomb design made with a 3D printer — conforms to the shape of the breast and captures real-time data sent directly to an app on a person’s phone. woman can be sent. . (That’s the plan: Currently, the device needs to be connected to an ultrasound machine to view the images.) “You can capture the data while you sip your coffee,” says Dağdeviren. Creating the patch required miniaturizing the ultrasound technology, which her team did by integrating a new piezoelectric material, which can convert physical pressure into electrical energy.

The problem that Dağdeviren and her team are tackling – getting breast cancer faster – is huge. One in eight women will be diagnosed with breast cancer during her lifetime; in 2020, 685,000 people (men and women) died from breast cancer. Instead of having one data point about your breasts every two years, if you scanned every day with a device like Dağdeviren’s, you could have 730 data points to work from, with the potential to pick up malignant lumps much earlier tracks. Dağdeviren says the device has the potential to save 12 million lives a year.

In July 2023, her team published their first proof-of-concept paper about the technology in the magazine Scientific progress, where they showed that the scanner could detect cysts as small as 0.3 centimeters in diameter in the breasts of a 71-year-old woman. Now they’re preparing to conduct a larger trial with more participants, and Dağdeviren plans to enlist the help of female faculty from MIT to test out the technology.

Dağdeviren does not see the technology limited to detecting breast cancer. The rest of the human body also needs to be inspected: she even put it on her stomach when she was pregnant to watch her baby kick inside. She plans to start her own company to license it to healthcare systems once it receives approval from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

For starters, Dağdeviren wants the technology to be made available to high-risk women like her who have a family history of breast cancer. She also wants it to reach underserved female populations, such as black and brown women, and women in poorer countries who may not have access to screening programs.

Ultimately, Dağdeviren wants to give people the opportunity to know what’s happening in their bodies every day, the same way we check the weather forecast. “Isn’t it funny, you know everything about the outside – how come in this century you know nothing about your own tissues?”

This article first appeared in the January/February 2024 edition of WIRED UK.

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