Portable device for breast cancer screening moves closer to market

10 Dec 2010

A new portable device that detects breast cancer based on tissue elasticity has come a step closer to market with its licensing by a medical device company

The non-invasive and radiation-free device may enable breast cancer screening and cancer detection in populations where mammography is not widely available or successful, including women in developing countries, and those under the age of 40.

The technology, developed by Dr Wan Shih with Dr Wei-Heng Shih and their team at Drexel University is now one step closer to market thanks to its licensing by UE LifeSciences, a Philadelphia-based medical device company focused on bringing effective and sustainable breast cancer solutions to life.

Wan Shih, a breast cancer survivor herself, hopes that the commercialization of the technology will help detect breast cancers early in women in Asia whose breast cancers are typically found in late stages with low rates of survival.

Shih’s project was selected to receive a $200,000 award through the University City Science Center’s QED Program in its inaugural cycle in the fall of 2009. The project also received support from the Wallace H. Coulter Translational Research Program at Drexel University. The QED Program is the first multi-institutional proof-of-concept program for life sciences technologies. It bridges the “valley of death”, the gap between academic research and commercial development by providing scientists with guidance from experienced regional entrepreneurs, feedback from regional investors and funding to demonstrate proof of concept.

“It is gratifying to see the second QED technology licensed,” says Science Center President & CEO Stephen S. Tang. “Not only does it prove the concept of the QED Program, but we’re seeing the potential for a huge impact on improving patient care and quality of life. Early diagnosis can be a key in treating breast cancer. This technology has the potential to open up early diagnosis to a new population.”

Not only is the device inexpensive and easy to use, but early results suggest it is highly sensitive, and able to provide clues as to whether a lump is benign or malignant, potentially eliminating some of the many biopsies performed every year.

A hand-held probe comprising piezoelectric finger (PEF) sensors can detect very small forces and displacements at the surface. These are then converted to electrical signals to determine the elastic modulus or shear modulus, which serve as a precise indicator of tissue stiffness in compression or in shear.

Simultaneous measurement of both shear and compression stiffness in the underlying breast tissue enables detection of very small tumours, and also differentiation of cancers from non-cancerous lumps. The device may have particular utility for women with dense breasts, such as Asian and younger women, for whom imaging procedures that rely on differences in tissue density are more challenging.

"The technology’s potential to enhance the clinical breast exam while maintaining high specificity can be key in further empowering the women’s health provider community,” explains UE LifeSciences CEO Mihir Shah. “We are also interested in leveraging the technology's ability to provide non-invasive malignancy assessment; we envision market potential in developing regions and primary health centres around the world."


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