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Smart textile in bra would monitor breast cancer growth

Scientists are developing a smart textile which could fit inside a bra and monitor whether a breast cancer tumour is growing.

Bra in a shop

A team in Nottingham Trent University’s Medical Technologies Innovation Facility is working to create the device, which it is hoped could help save patients’ lives in future by monitoring tumour growth in real time.

The technology will work via a form of electrical current which can scan and detect tiny changes in fluids inside and outside of the cells.

Because tumour tissue is more dense than healthy tissue it contains less water, so the device will be able to measure tumour changes and growth – down to as little as 2mm.

The hope is that the non-invasive technology – which the researchers say could be used as an insert into a patient’s bra or potentially developed as a new bra incorporating the device – would be used alongside patients’ treatment and other regular checks and scans, such as MRI.

Data would be recorded and fed back to the wearer and clinician via smartphone so that assessments can be made about growth.

The team hopes this could help to reduce the need for so many other checks, such as MRI, ultrasound and mammograms, saving money for health services.

The researchers say ongoing monitoring is important because growth can vary significantly between patients and is very difficult to monitor precisely, particularly under 1cm.

MRI scans for monitoring tumour growth can be months apart, the researchers say, and there could be significant growth between hospital visits.

There is an average of almost 56,000 new cases of breast cancer in the UK every year, with more than 11,000 deaths.

Through increased monitoring and assessment it is hoped that the technology will help provide patients with peace of mind.

“The technology would measure changes in breast tissue and help improve a patient’s chance of survival,” said Dr Yang Wei, an expert in electronic textiles and electronic engineering in Nottingham Trent University’s Medical Technologies Innovation Facility.

He said: “Breast cancer can grow so quickly, it could be 1mm in six months or 2mm in six weeks. This would be an additional measure to see how fast does the tumour grow.

“We are opening the door to the investigation of an alternative breast cancer detection that could be done in the comfort of a patient’s home, conserving essential hospital resources whilst still providing a viable solution to detect early signs of cancer.”

The Nottingham team has honed the electronics functionality and will now proceed to optimising and validating the technology.

The researchers aim is for the device to move to clinical trial, hopefully within the next few years.

  • Notes for editors

    Press enquiries please contact Dave Rogers, Public Relations Manager, on telephone +44 (0)115 848 8782, or via email.

    Nottingham Trent University (NTU) received the Queen’s Anniversary Prize for Higher and Further Education in 2021 for cultural heritage science research. It is the second time that NTU has been bestowed the honour of receiving a Queen’s Anniversary Prize for its research, the first being in 2015 for leading-edge research on the safety and security of global citizens.

    The Research Excellence Framework (2021) classed 83% of NTU’s research activity as either world-leading or internationally excellent. 86% of NTU’s research impact was assessed to be either world-leading or internationally excellent.

    NTU was awarded The Times and The Sunday Times Modern University of the Year 2023 and ranked University of the Year in the Whatuni Student Choice Awards 2023. It was awarded Outstanding Support for Students 2020 (Times Higher Education Awards), University of the Year 2019 (Guardian University Awards, UK Social Mobility Awards), Modern University of the Year 2018 (Times and Sunday Times Good University Guide) and University of the Year 2017 (Times Higher Education Awards).

    NTU is the 5th largest UK institution by student numbers, with approximately 40,000 students and more than 4,400 staff located across five campuses. It has an international student population of 7,000 and an NTU community representing over 160 countries.

    Since 2000, NTU has invested £570 million in tools, technology, buildings and facilities.

    NTU is in the UK’s top 10 for number of applications and ranked first for accepted offers (2021 UCAS UG acceptance data). It is also among the UK’s top five recruiters of students from disadvantaged backgrounds and was the first UK university to sign the Social Mobility Pledge.

    NTU is ranked the second most sustainable university in the world in the 2022 UI Green Metric University World Rankings (out of more than 900 participating universities).

Published on 18 March 2024
  • Subject area: Sciences including sport sciences
  • Category: Press office; Research; School of Science and Technology