TechMIT scientists' groundbreaking invention: a bra-worn ultrasound device could revolutionize breast cancer diagnosis

MIT scientists' groundbreaking invention: a bra‑worn ultrasound device could revolutionize breast cancer diagnosis

The new ultrasonographic device can be embedded in a bra.
The new ultrasonographic device can be embedded in a bra.
Images source: © Licensor

7:43 AM EST, January 21, 2024

Breast cancer is the most prevalent type of cancer among women. With early diagnosis, the survival rate can reach 100 percent. This percentage drops to around 25 percent when the tumors are detected later. A primary roadblock to early detection is often the need to arrange an examination at a typically far-removed diagnostic center.

To mitigate this, MIT scientists designed (DOI: 10.1126/sciadv.adh5325) a wearable ultrasound device capable of detecting tumors, even in the early stages. This device could be particularly beneficial when used intermittently between routine mammogram appointments for those at a high risk of developing breast cancer.

An ultrasound device in a bra

The novel ultrasound device is a flexible patch that can be attached inside a bra, enabling the wearer to adjust its position to image the breast tissue from varying angles. Studies have demonstrated that this device can produce ultrasound images with a resolution similar to those produced by ultrasound probes in medical imaging centers.

The device's compact size was achieved by utilizing an innovative piezoelectric material. Its supporting structure features a flexible, 3D-printed element with a honeycomb pattern. Using magnetic attachments, the device can be fixed inside a bra, whose openings ensure direct contact between the ultrasound device and the skin. The device offers six different positioning options, enabling imaging of the entire breast without needing specialist interaction.

"We have transformed ultrasound technology to enable home use. The ultrasound is portable, user-friendly, and facilitates real-time monitoring of breast tissue," says Canan Dagdeviren from the Media Lab at MIT and senior author of the study.

The new ultrasonographic device can be built into a bra.
The new ultrasonographic device can be built into a bra.© The text "Science" is already in American English.

Cases undetected in routine screenings

Her late aunt, Fatma Caliskanoglu, inspired Professor Dagdeviren's motivation. Despite regular screenings, her aunt was diagnosed with advanced breast cancer at the age of 49 and passed away six months later. By her aunt's bedside, Professor Dagdeviren, a postdoc at MIT at the time, conceived the idea of a diagnostic tool that could be incorporated into a bra for increased screening frequency for individuals at high risk of breast cancer.

Interval cancers, or breast tumors that develop between regular mammogram screenings account for 20 to 30 percent of all breast cancer diagnoses. These tumors tend to be more aggressive than those identified during routine exams.

"My goal is to reach those with the highest likelihood of developing interval cancer," states Dagdeviren, whose research group specializes in developing wearable electronic devices that conform to the body. "We aim to boost the overall survival rate to 98 percent through more frequent screenings."

Promising results in initial tests

To date, the researchers have trialed their device on a 71-year-old woman with a history of breast cysts. They managed to detect cysts as small as 0.12 inches — the typical size of early-stage tumors. Additionally, they demonstrated that the device achieves a resolution comparable to conventional ultrasounds and can image tissues at a depth of about 3.15 inches.

Currently, the researchers use a traditional, large ultrasound apparatus to view images from the new device, but they are developing a miniature imaging system approximately the size of a smartphone.

In the future, artificial intelligence will analyze the images obtained by comparing data from subsequent exams conducted at short intervals. The team is also working on applying similar technology to other body parts.

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