A group of Australian researchers are on a mission to create the world's first HD optical scanner able to fit on a surgeon's glove. If all goes according to plan, this scanner should dramatically help surgeons remove all of the cancerous cells in breast cancer patients without having to perform a second tumor removal surgery.
Brendan Kennedy, who works as a biomedical engineer and a professor at the University of Western Australia, is the lead researcher on this project. Before working on this medical device, Kennedy used similar fibre-based optical technology to increase the efficiency of the Internet.
Kennedy is now leading a team of researchers at the Harry Perkins Institute of Medical Research located in the city of Perth. Breast cancer surgeons in the area are actively working with researchers to help develop the best possible device.
The team's current device is an HD optical imaging scanner that can be applied to the tip of a surgeon's glove. This device works by scanning the difference between stiff cancerous cells and soft healthy cells. Kennedy thinks of his device as the world's first "smart surgical glove."
After successfully testing this smart glove on over 100 specimens, Kennedy feels it's time to move on to human trials. The Perth researchers have created a usable handheld prototype which they intend to use on real human tissue sometime in May.
Christobel Saunders, a surgical oncology professor at the University of Western Australia, is impressed with Kennedy's latest work. She told reporters that the device will help enhance surgeons' sense of touch.
Saunders, who often performs breast surgery in Perth hospitals, said that it's extremely difficult for surgeons to get a good sense for the tumor just relying on their sense of touch. Since most surgeons only use their own sense of touch in breast cancer surgeries, surgeons often miss a large portion of the tumor.
A recent survey found that one in eight Australian women develop breast cancer, but an astonishing one in three of those women discover all the cancerous cells weren't removed after their first tumor removal surgery. Currently, about 20-30 percent of women with breast cancer have to have a repeat surgery.
There's no word yet on when Kennedy's product may be ready for surgical use in the real world. As of today, Kennedy is still anxiously awaiting his first trial using human tissue.
The American Cancer Society recommends all women 45 and over should get a mammogram screening every year. The main signs of breast cancer include a lump in the breast, discomfort in the chest, and sometimes swollen lymph nodes. Although breast cancer is more common in females, it can occur in males.
Brendan Kennedy studied both engineering and optical communications at Dublin City University. Before working at the University of Western Australia, Kennedy lectured at the University of Santiago in Chile. Kennedy is now the laboratory head at BRITElab, a division of the Harry Perkins Institute of Medical Research.