Smart test for breasts

BioLuminate has obtained a license to develop an innovative diagnostic device for early breast cancer detection based on technology originally developed by NASA.

BioLuminate has obtained a license to develop, produce and market an innovative diagnostic device for early breast cancer detection based on technology originally developed by NASA researchers.

San Jose-based BioLuminate plans to develop a commercial version of the ‘Smart Surgical Probe’ originally developed at NASA’s Ames Research centre.

The probe is a small, disposable needle with multiple sensors with the potential to enable physicians to diagnose tumours without surgery. This would, it is claimed, dramatically reduce the number of breast biopsies that women may have to undergo annually.

‘This device is being developed to make real-time, detailed interpretations of breast tissue at the tip of the needle,’ said Robert Mah, the NASA Ames scientist who invented the technology. ‘The instrument may allow health care providers to make expert, accurate diagnoses as well as to suggest proper, individualised treatment, even in remote areas,’ he added.

‘Every week in the United States, approximately 18,000 surgical breast biopsies are performed on women with suspicious breast lesions,’ said Richard Hular, CEO of BioLuminate. ‘By taking the NASA Ames Smart Probe and developing it further, BioLuminate hopes to be able to produce a real-time-measurement instrument that will reduce the need for surgery.’

Further development of the smart surgical probe is focused on distinguishing cancer tissue types and obtaining real-time measurements.

‘The probe uses special neural net software developed at Ames that ‘learns’ from experience. This enables the instrument to detect the physiologic signs of cancer and may predict its progress,’ explained Mah.

The breast cancer tool is being developed in collaboration with Stanford University School of Medicine.

It is a spin-off from a computerised robotic brain surgery ‘assistant’ previously developed by Mah and Stanford neurosurgeon Dr Russell Andrews.

The larger brain-surgery device is a simple robot that can ‘learn’ the physical characteristics of the brain and may soon give surgeons finer control of surgical instruments during delicate brain operations.