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Science Saturday Swiss smart bra can help prevent breast cancer

SmartBra and students

EPFL students developed the "SmartBra" with a local start-up company.

( © 2020 EPFL)

Swiss students have teamed up with a local start-up to develop a “smart bra” for cancer prevention.

“Our smart-clothing technology is designed to detect cancer at the earliest stages. It uses a non-invasive, painless method based on frequent ultrasound monitoring,” says Hugo Vuillet, one of the students on the development team at the Federal Institute of Technology Lausanne (EPFL).

The students came up with their design last autumn, working with IcosaMed, a Neuchâtel-based start-up founded in March 2019, according to EPFLexternal link.  Their system proved so effective that the company decided to continue the partnership.

Unlike existing cancer-detection technology that uses radiation, IcosaMed’s technology emits ultrasound waves to perform echography scans for potentially cancerous cells. The ultrasound waves are generated using piezoelectric sensors, which are devices that run on energy generated when pressure is applied to a piezoelectric material. “This technology is what allows us to miniaturize the SmartBra’s detection system so that it’s still comfortable to wear and nearly imperceptible,” says Vuillet. If the system detects a suspicious mass of cells, it will alert the wearer so that she can schedule an appointment with a specialist.

“Our system could do more than detect cancer – we hope that one day it could also act preventively and emit nearly continuous, low-dose ultrasound waves in a controlled manner so as to stimulate apoptosis in the cancerous mass,” says IcosaMed founder and CEO Max Boysset. Apoptosis refers to the process of cell self-destruction.

Market launch planned for 2021

EPFL says the “SmartBra” will initially be sold to women who have already been diagnosed with cancer, so that they can monitor their condition on a daily basis. This will then be expanded to include women with a genetic predisposition to developing cancer, and eventually to all women.

“Right now we are in the process of raising funds. We need a total of CHF 4 million ($4.1 million): CHF 1.5 million to finalize the functional prototype we are building with high-tech manufacturer Turck duotechexternal link, and CHF 2.5 million for the initial market launch, currently planned for 2021,” says Boysset.

EPFL says that if everything goes according to plan, “the SmartBra could pave the way for other high-potential products using smart textiles – like underwear and bodysuits – to detect and prevent other types of cancers”.

Advances Swiss cancer research yields breast-saving fat, better detection

The incidence of breast cancer in Switzerland is high, but research offers hope – especially the finding that cancer cells can be converted into fat.

 

swissinfo.ch/jc

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