The researchers 3D-printed a flexible patch that can attach to a bra using magnets. The patch has six openings where a miniaturized ultrasound scanner can contact the skin and image the wearer’s breast tissue from different angles.
The goal is to detect breast cancer earlier with more frequent screening for patients at high risk.
“We changed the form factor of the ultrasound technology so that it can be used in your home,” MIT Media Lab Associate Professor Canan Dagdeviren, who designed the miniaturized scanner, said in a news release. “It’s portable and easy to use, and provides real-time, user-friendly monitoring of breast tissue.”
MIT graduate student Wenya Du, Research scientist Lin Zhang, Emma Suh and Xi’an Technological University professor Dabin Lin are the lead authors of the paper, published in Science Advances.The team said their device image resolution is comparable to those generated by probes in medical imaging centers, and can image tissue at a depth of up to 8 cm.
Right now, their reusable system connects to an ultrasound machine like you’d see at an imaging center, but the researchers say they’re working on a smartphone-sized version for use at home or anywhere else, anytime.
“Breast cancer is the most common cancer among women, and it is treatable when detected early,” said Massachusetts General Hospital breast cancer surgeon Dr. Tolga Ozmen, another author of the study. “One of the main obstacles in imaging and early detection is the commute that the women have to make to an imaging center. This conformable ultrasound patch is a highly promising technology as it eliminates the need for women to travel to an imaging center.”
MIT School of Engineering Dean Anantha Chandrakasan cited advances in materials, low-power circuits, AI algorithms and biomedical systems for the device’s development. “This work will significantly advance ultrasound research and medical device designs.”
A personal missionDagdeviren drafted a rough schematic of the device at the bedside of her late aunt, who died six months after being diagnosed with late-stage breast cancer at 49 despite regular screenings.
MIT said 20% to 30% of all breast cancer cases are interval cancers, or tumors that develop in between regularly scheduled mammograms.
“My goal is to target the people who are most likely to develop interval cancer,” Dagdeviren said. “With more frequent screening, our goal to increase the survival rate to up to 98 percent.”
Breast cancer patients diagnosed in the earliest stages are nearly certain to survive, but the survival rate is only around 25% for tumors spotted in later stages.
The first patient — and what’s nextThe researchers worked with MIT’s Center for Clinical and Translational Research to test their wearable ultrasound scanner on a single patient. In that woman, a 71-year-old with a history of breast cysts, the device detected cysts as small as 0.3 cm diameter, the same size as early-stage tumors.
“Access to quality and affordable health care is essential for early detection and diagnosis,” said Catherine Ricciardi, CCTR nurse director and an author of the study. “As a nurse I have witnessed the negative outcomes of a delayed diagnosis. 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.”
The researchers hope to use artificial intelligence to analyze how images of a patient’s breast tissue change over time. That could help more accurately diagnose tumors than images taken years apart. The researchers also plan to look into adapting their werable ultrasound technology for other parts of the body.