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A “Smart bra” for Detecting Breast Cancer

A French-Swiss consortium is conducting exploratory research to develop a “smart bra” for detecting breast cancer. It wants to leverage technological progress to offer a more accessible diagnostic method than mammography. This initiative – that involves five partners – is supported in France by the FEDER (European fund for regional development) and in Switzerland by the Confederation and the canton of Neuchâtel within the framework of the European program for regional cooperation Interreg France-Switzerland.

According to the GLOBOCAN database, throughout 2018 breast cancer was the main cause of cancer-related deaths in women worldwide – with a million new diagnosed cases and approx. 627,000 deaths. French statistics in 2017 painted a similar picture, with this form of cancer cited as the reason behind    11, 883 deaths and 59,000 new cases. The Swiss estimates, published for 2018, further described 6000 new cases of invasive cancer, with 1372 deaths over that period; equating to the main cause of Swiss female mortality between the ages of 40 – 50 years. But these difficult statics needn’t be so – when detected early, this form of pathology can often be cured in more than 90% of cases.

Mammography – an efficient method, but onerous and costly

Currently, breast cancer prevention methods in France and Switzerland rely on patient’s individual and/or organized screening. Most commonly, mammography is used to assess patients’ health, and presently it still remains the most effective and scientifically proven method to detect cancerous tissues. However, despite this technique’s effectiveness it comes with various barriers, including: access to care, the uncomfortable nature of the technique, and availability of appointments. Moreover, this method is expensive, requiring it to be performed by specialized doctors, which rules it out for large-scale screening programs in some countries. Therefore, the development of new screening method is a major need and issue within the public health sector.

The SBra project aims to study the feasibility of a solution combining non-invasive and non-intrusive technologies, based on the measurement of electrical and thermal properties of the mammary tissues. The ultimate objective is to design an effective, comfortable, portable and personalized system that is not only capable of detecting early stage breast cancer, but poses no risk to human health – and what better way to achieve these needs, than by creating the system in the form of something most woman are highly familiar with – the humble bra.

Easier access to screening

The SBra project aims to develop an intelligent bra, equipped with sensors, capable of effectively detecting this cancer early, comfortably and without risk to health. The device would be intended primarily for women considered to be at high risk, not those who are scheduled for a routine screening or check-up.

The project relies on French-Swiss cooperation involving: CSEM (Neuchâtel – CH), the Ecole Nationale Supérieure de Mécanique et des Microtechniques (ENSMM Besançon – F), the Hôpital Nord Franche-Comté (HNFC Belfort – F), the Université de Technologie de Belfort-Montbéliard (UTBM Belfort – F), and the company ZTC Technology (La Chaux-de-Fonds – CH). The teams are made up of around twenty people in France and around ten in Switzerland, including experts in Engineering, IT, Medicine, Philosophy and Sociology, as well as Clinical Research Coordinators.

The project was selected within the framework of the French-Swiss Interreg European territorial cooperation program for a duration of 24 months, with a budget of € 991,000 (CHF 1,102,000). It also benefits from financial support from the European Union via the European fund for regional development FEDER (€ 321,000 / CHF 383,000), the Swiss Confederation (€ 142,700 / CHF 158,500) and the canton of Neuchâtel (€ 140,900 / CHF 156,500).

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