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A ‘smart glove’ to reduce need for follow up breast cancer surgery

September 12, 2016

Thousands of breast cancer patients might be spared a second surgery thanks to innovative technology developed by researchers at the Harry Perkins Institute of Medical Research in Perth.

Up to one in four women undergoing surgery to remove breast cancers will have to return to the operating theatre within weeks to remove further tissue, as small traces of tumour can be left behind.

Currently, surgeons use their finger to distinguish the edge of the tumour because cancerous tissue is much harder and stiffer than normal tissue, but this method doesn’t detect tiny cancerous cells which could allow the tumour to regrow.

To solve the challenge, Perkins biomedical engineer, Dr Brendan Kennedy and his team of researchers from the Perkins and the University of Western Australia, have developed the world’s first 3D printed finger-mounted optical imaging probe – a ‘smart surgical glove’.

Dr Kennedy said the probe measures tissue stiffness at a microscopic level using high resolution imaging, allowing surgeons to detect cancer cells that are too small to see or feel but can continue to grow if left in the breast.

“The finger can only identify large tumours so the ability to detect cancer at a cellular level is key to ensuring effective removal of the tumour,” Dr Kennedy said.

“The surgeon will be able to run their gloved finger around the edge of the tumour and the super sensitive probe will project an image of what they’re touching on to a high resolution screen for far better visibility.”

Breast cancer and normal tissue

Dr Kennedy is working with surgeons and pathologists in Perth to test the first generation prototype on tissue taken from mastectomies and he believes the glove will be ready to test in surgeries by the end of 2016.

He said the ability to translate research outcomes into patient benefits was fundamental, and he hoped consultations between surgeons and scientists would allow patient outcomes to continuously improve at a faster rate.

Dr Kennedy is developing the glove in association with leading breast surgeon Professor Christobel Saunders and UWA’s Professor David Sampson. The project is funded in part by the National Breast Cancer Foundation.

This news article was first posted on the Harry Perkins Institute of Medical Research website. Images of Dr Kennedy and the team as well as of breast tissue courtesy of Perkins.

The Australian Cancer Research Foundation has supported cancer research at the Perkins by providing two grants, totalling AUD $3.6 million, towards cutting edge cancer research equipment and technology.

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