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American Chemical Society Chemistry for Life - 'Electronic skin' could improve early breast cancer detection

DCN Corp® - Using a Silicone (polydimethylsiloxane (PDMS)) model of a breast and embedding objects representing lumps. Researchers have successfully tested an "electronic skin" that can accurately feel and image lumps much smaller than those detectable by manual examinations. Credit - American Chemical Society (ACS), USADetecting and/or examining breast cancer manually can seem quite low-tech when compared to other methods such as Magnetic Resonance Imagining (MRI). However, scientists are now developing an "electronic skin" which feels and images small lumps that a physicist fingers can easily miss. Understanding the size and shape of a lump could enable for earlier identification of breast cancer, which could ultimately save lives. The researchers described their device, which was extensively tested on a breast model made of Silicone (polydimethylsiloxane (PDMS)) in the journal ACS Applied Materials and Interfaces.

Researchers Ravi F. Saraf and Chieu Van Nguyen point out that early diagnosis of breast cancer, unfortunately, the most common type of cancer amongst women, can ultimately help save lives. However, small masses of cancer cells are not always easily detectable. Current testing processes, such as MRI and ultrasounds, are sensitive but too expensive. Furthermore, mammography is known to be imperfect, especially when it comes to testing young women or women with dense breast tissue. Clinical breast examinations performed by medical professionals as an initial screening step is inexpensive, but typically it is difficult to find lumps until they are at least 21 millimetres (mm) in length. Detectability of lumps and thereafter determining their shape when less than half the length is key to improving a patient's survival rate by more than 94%. Nowadays there are some devices, which can mimic a manual examination, but the image quality is poor and cannot determine a lump's shape. The importance of the lump's shape helps doctors understand whether a tumor is cancerous. Saraf and Nguyen objective is fill this gap.

The researchers managed to design a kind of electronic skin from nanoparticles (NP) and polymers, which can detect, feel and image small objects. To understand how the skin might function on a human patient, the researchers embedded lump-like objects in a piece of Silicone to help mimick a breast and pressed the device against this model. The pressure applied was the same a clinician would employ in a manual examination. In following the above the researchers managed to image the lump stand-ins, which were as little as 5 mm and as deep as 20 mm. Saraf concludes in stating that the device could also be used to screen patients for early signs of melanoma and other cancers. Original article available here