Researchers work on improving breast cancer detection

Wednesday, 12 October 2016

Electrical  impedance mammographic sensor

Oxford Brookes has been collaborating with the University of Mainz in Germany to develop an alternative breast cancer detection technique.

October is national Breast Cancer Awareness Month, a worldwide annual campaign involving thousands of organisations to highlight the importance of breast awareness, education and research.

Professor Khaled Hayatleh from the Oxford Brookes’ Department of Mechanical Engineering and Mathematical Sciences (MEMS) and former Brookes researcher Professor Cristiana Sebu, now at the University of Malta, led a research team that collaborated with researchers from the Institute of Physics at the University of Mainz on a concept which uses electrical impedance imaging, known as Electrical Impedance Mammography (EIM).    

Professor Khaled Hayatleh said: “EIM images the distribution of electrical properties of the breast tissue from measurements of electric currents and voltages on its surface. Studies have discovered a difference of three times or more in the specific electrical conductivity and permittivity between healthy and cancerous tissue, meaning that EIM could improve the specificity of the diagnosis in detecting breast cancer.”  

Studies have discovered a difference of three times or more in the specific electrical conductivity and permittivity between healthy and cancerous tissue, meaning that EIM could improve the specificity of the diagnosis in detecting breast cancer.

Professor Khaled Hayatleh, Oxford Brookes University

The use of this technology would offer a number of advantages over traditional X-ray mammography, including portability, lower costs, little or zero patient discomfort and no known patient risk or side effects. In addition the investigation can be performed by medical practitioners without special training, meaning that in underdeveloped medical facilities, EIM could provide a provisional replacement for a biopsy.  

Professor Cristiana Sebu said: “EIM is a great step forward in low-cost, non-invasive, portable mammography screening for early detection and breast cancer monitoring. It will reduce the number of invasive X-ray and MRI mammograms, although of course it will not replace them. The next stage of the work is establishing the experimental procedures to begin initial clinical trials, which will take place in Germany.  

“We want to make women’s lives easier and see the EIM systems as welcome additions to the current arsenal of tools available for the fight against breast cancer.”  

The research has been funded by the Higher Education Innovation Fund HEIF5 and has been devoted to the design, construction and testing of a near-to-market electrical impedance mammographic sensor (pictured above) and to the development and adjustment of an efficient, image reconstruction computing algorithm which could be used to detect the size and the location of breast tumours in real-time.  

This project has enabled the researchers to gain extensive knowledge in the practical and theoretical aspects of EIM. As a result, there will be further collaboration with the University of Mainz, together with Imperial College London, to embark on another revolutionary challenge to embed the EIM system into a bra for home use, where the results can be sent regularly via internet to a medical practitioner.  

More information about the Department of Mechanical Engineering and Mathematical Sciences can be found on the website.