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Researchers Develop Superthin And Flexible Pressure Sensors That Could Help Detect Breast Cancer

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Doctors may be able to detect breast cancer in patients earlier thanks to these newly developed pressure sensors that are thin enough to be inserted into a pair of gloves.

Early detection is critical when treating cancer, and for women that means getting annual mammograms to identify any signs of breast cancer. Even still, tumors can go unnoticed, with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reporting that in 2012 (the most recent year where statistics are available), more than 200,000 women and 2,000 men in the U.S. were diagnosed with breast cancer.

But now a team of Japanese and American scientists have developed a new kind of pressure sensor that is superthin and flexible enough to adhere to the skin. Their hope is that the nanofiber sensors could one day be inserted into gloves physicians wear when performing exams to detect for breast cancer.

Wearable sensors are nothing new. However, the problem is that when these flexible sensors are twisted, bended or wrinkled, they cannot accurately track pressure changes.

The team of researchers solved this problem by creating a thinner sensor that will continue to track pressure no matter how much its gets curved, publishing its findings in the journal Nature Nanotechnology.

Led by Dr. Sungwon Lee and Professor Takao Someya of the University of Tokyo's Graduate School of Engineering, the researchers combined graphene, carbon nanotubes and an elastic polymer to create pressure-sensing nanofibers that are 300 to 700 nanometers in diameter, or 8 micrometers thick, which is one-fifth the thickness of a single strand of human hair.

They then created a grid-like thin and transparent structure with the nanofibers that has the ability to measure pressure in 144 places at once. That means when inserted into rubber gloves and paired with software, doctors will be able to detect tumors with just a touch.

The researchers tested the pressure sensors with an artificial blood vessel, finding that it could successfully detect small changes in pressure and speed.

And because the results are digitized, the information could be easily shared with other physicians. "The new sensor would make it possible to measure the human sensation so that findings by palpation could even be shared remotely," Someya said. "In the future, we would be able to record and make tangible certain sensations that can only be perceived by an experienced doctor."

The superthin and flexible sensors may also help physicians in detecting other diseases.

Source: Japan Times

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