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Nanofibre pressure sensor to help in breast cancer detection

27 Jan 2016

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Japanese and U.S. scientists developed ultrathin bendable sensors that could be used in gloves to detect breast lumps and digitally record the exam, AFP reported.

The nanofibre sensors are 3.4µm thin, equivalent to less than half the thickness of a kitchen wrap, according to research published in online version of British science magazine Nature Nanotechnology.

"Healthcare practitioners may one day be able to physically screen for breast cancer using pressure-sensitive rubber gloves to detect tumours," the researchers said in a statement prior to the publication.

Thin pressure sensors

The pressure sensors wrap around and conform to the fingers' shape while still accurately measuring pressure distribution. (Source: Someya Laboratory)

Research teams led by Tokyo University Professor Takao Someya and Harvard University's Zhigang Suo said a 4.8cm x 4.8cm square sheet has 144 locations that can measure pressure. Its flexibility allows the sensors to accurately detect pressure changes even when twisted like cloth.

Someya told AFP that a veteran doctor's sensitive fingers may be able to find a small tumour, but such perceived sensation cannot be measured. With the digitisation of the sensation, information could be shared with other doctors who could experience the same sensations theoretically as the physician who did the examination.

The researchers noted that flexible pressure sensors are also being developed by other scientists, but their versions are weak when bent or twisted. This makes it difficult to accurately detect pressure changes.

The nanofibre pressure sensor developed by Tokyo University and Harvard researchers can be bent over a radius of as small as 80µm or twice the width of a human hair.

The sheet successfully detected minute pressure changes and the speed of pressure propagation when it was tested on an artificial blood vessel, Sungwon Lee, a leading researcher in Someya's team, said in a statement.

"The new sensor would make it possible to measure the human sensation so that findings by palpation could even be shared remotely," Someya told AFP. "In the future, we would be able to record and make tangible certain sensations that can only be perceived by an experienced doctor."

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