Volume 9, Number 6 November/December 2001 Technology Transfer
Tech Box: Smart Surgical Probe to Begin Clinical Tests
A revolutionary early breast-cancer-detection tool based on NASA technology began human clinical trials in November after receiving the go-ahead from the Food and Drug Administration. Dublin, California-based BioLuminate Inc., the start-up company licensed by NASA to develop, produce and market the Smart Surgical Probe, began human testing on volunteer patients at the University of California (UC) Medical Center in Davis and at the University of California, San Francisco (UCSF). The Smart Surgical Probe was originally developed by Dr. Robert Mah at NASAs Ames Research Center in Moffett Field, California.
This device is being developed to make real-time, detailed interpretations of breast tissue at the tip of the needle, said Mah. The instrument may allow healthcare providers to make expert, accurate diagnoses, as well as to suggest proper, individualized treatment, even for patients in remote areas, he said. The probe is a small, disposable needle with multiple sensors. This technology and resulting product may enable physicians to diagnose tumors without surgery, thereby dramatically reducing the number of unnecessary breast biopsies women undergo annually.
Smart Probes sensors begin gathering information the moment the needle is inserted into tissue. Computer software eventually will compare the real-time measurements to a set of known, archived parameters that indicate the presence or absence of cancer, and display the results on a computer screen.
More than 200 patients scheduled for a surgical biopsy were invited to volunteer to be tested with the Smart Probe prior to their medical procedure. Recorded data then will be used to teach the probe to distinguish cancerous tissue from benign.
With the knowledge gained from this study, we will be able to develop the first commercial prototype. That prototype will be used in our next clinical study, which will involve nearly 10,000 women, said BioLuminate president and CEO Richard Hular. The data we acquire each time the needle is inserted into a suspicious lesion later confirmed to be cancerous enables us to teach the computer to become more accurate and recognize cancerous tissue on its own.
Every week in the United States approximately 18,000 surgical breast biopsies are performed on women with suspicious breast lesions that later are determined to be benign. By taking the Ames Smart Probe and developing it further in collaboration with the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in Livermore, California, BioLuminate hopes to produce a real-time measurement instrument that will reduce the need for unnecessary surgery. If we are successful, the probe will significantly improve womens healthcare and could potentially reduce annual healthcare costs, said Hular.
With BioLuminate, we have taken the multi-sensor NASA concept, selected new optical sensor technology and packaged it into a thin needle-sized instrument that can pinpoint whether a tumor in the breast is cancerous or benign, said John Marion, Lawrence Livermore National Laboratorys principle investigator for the Smart Probe.
The BioLuminate needle offers the potential to improve localization of cancer tissue, eliminate removal of tissue and the associated complications, and, most importantly, obtain more accurate information for diagnosis, said Lydia Howell, MD, director of cytology and professor of pathology at UC Davis. The information obtained by the needle also has the potential to be useful in predicting how a cancer may behave.
The needle may be able to not only distinguish benign lumps from cancerous lumps, but also to distinguish which cancers are more aggressive so the patient can receive stronger therapies.
This is an exciting technology that has immediate and future promise to improve the treatment of breast cancer, said Laura Esserman, MD, MBA, director of the Carol Franc Buck Breast Care Center at the UCSF Comprehensive Cancer Center. I also am excited by the possibility that this technology would help us to evaluate the presence of residual disease at the time of surgical excision, thereby reducing the need for additional surgery for women who are being treated using breast conservation.
The commercialization of this NASA technology is an outstanding example of applying space research technology to bring healthcare benefits down to Earth, noted Phil Herlth, of the Ames Commercial Technology Office.Q
For more information, contact Michael Braukus at NASA Headquarters, 202/358-1979, email@example.com or Victoria Kushnir at NASA Ames Research Center, firstname.lastname@example.org. Please mention you read about it in Innovation.