Researchers hope individuals with a high risk of breast cancer could use the new user-friendly imaging tool at home to catch breast tumors earlier, potentially increasing their chances of survival.
Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) researchers have developed a wearable bra-worn ultrasound device that can produce images comparable to ultrasounds in medical imaging facilities. The wearable diagnostic device attaches to a bra and can monitor breast tissue between routine mammograms in people with a high risk of breast cancer.
MIT associate professor Canan Dagdeviren designed the device after her 49-year-old aunt was diagnosed with late-stage breast cancer and passed away six months later — despite undergoing regular screenings. Dagdeviren sketched a rough design of the new device at her aunt's bedside.
Her goal was to create a screening tool to detect interval or early-stage cancer that develops between regular mammograms. About 20% to 30% of breast cancers are the interval type, and they tend to be more aggressive.
The device, described in a research article published in Science Advances, uses a miniaturized ultrasound scanner inside a small tracker that a person can move to six different positions over the breast. A breast-conforming 3D printed grid with honeycomb-like openings holds the mini ultrasound, which can be attached to the outside of a bra using magnets.
When MIT researchers tested the new wearable ultrasound on an individual with a high risk of breast cancer, they found that it could take images with a resolution similar to typical ultrasounds at a tissue depth of eight centimeters. It also detected cysts as small as 0.3 centimeters in diameter.
The new wearable bra screening device is reusable, which could make it useful as an in-home breast cancer screening tool for people at high risk of developing breast tumors. In addition, it might be helpful for women with limited access to mammograms.
Currently, the researchers must connect the scanner to an imaging center ultrasound machine. However, the team is in the process of developing a miniaturized smartphone-sized version of the system. They also plan to incorporate artificial intelligence to analyze images over time and adapt the device to scan other areas of the body.
In an MIT news release, study author Catherine Ricciardi, nurse director at MIT's Center for Clinical and Translational Research, says, "Access to quality and affordable health care is essential for early detection and diagnosis. As a nurse I have witnessed the negative outcomes of a delayed diagnosis."
Ricciardi adds, "This technology holds the promise of breaking down the many barriers for early breast cancer detection by providing a more reliable, comfortable, and less intimidating diagnostic."