MIT researchers design bra that detects early stages of breast cancer

An ultrasound designed by Massachusetts Institute of Technology researchers can detect tumors from the earliest stages of breast cancer, the university announced Friday.

The research was published by the university on Friday in the peer-reviewed journal The progress of science. The innovation is important because a diagnosis of breast cancer in its earliest stages has a survival rate of almost 100 percent, but that percentage drops if it is not detected until later stages.

The ultrasound device is designed to be wearable, which is a flexible patch that can be attached to a bra. The device will allow those who wear it to detect tumors at an early stage. Ultrasound images are taken by researchers with resolutions comparable to those used in medical imaging centers.

The study describes the device as “a nature-inspired honeycomb-shaped patch” equipped with a tracker that “allows for large-area, deep scanning and multi-angle breast imaging.”

“First of its kind technology”

It also describes the invention as a “first-of-its-kind ultrasound technology for breast tissue scanning and imaging that offers a non-invasive method for tracking dynamic changes in soft tissue in real time.”

An image of lung with breast cancer metastasis, surrounded by inflammatory complement protein: Cyan: Cell nuclei; Red: Complement protein; Green: blood vessels; (credit: LEA MONTERAN)

The research started when Canan Dagdeviren, an associate professor in MIT’s Media Lab and senior author of the study, drew a rough schematic diagram of a device that could be incorporated into a bra. Dagdeviren was inspired by her late aunt and drew the scheme while lying at her bedside.

Researchers tested their device on one person, a 71-year-old woman with a history of breast cysts. To view the ultrasound images, however, researchers must connect their scanners to the ultrasound machine used in imaging centers. Therefore, they are working on a miniaturized version of the image processing system.

Researchers also hope that artificial intelligence can be used to change images over time.

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