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A smart bra for detecting early-stage breast cancer

EPFL students have teamed up with start-up IcosaMed to develop the SmartBra, the first piece of smart clothing that can be used for cancer prevention.

SmartBra
This smart-clothing technology could lead to a completely revolutionary approach to cancer prevention. | Copyright EPFL

A group of Master's students at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology (EPFL) has teamed up with start-up company IcosaMed to develop a bra with a breast cancer screening device. Unlike a mammography, which is not only invasive and painful for the patient, but also requires X-rays, this intelligent bra, or SmartBra, bases its detection on an ultrasound wave system. These waves are generated by piezoelectric sensors activated by pressure, a simple palpation of the tissue being enough to activate it and produce an ultrasound.

“Our smart-clothing technology is designed to detect cancer at the earliest stages. It uses a non-invasive, painless method based on frequent ultrasound monitoring,” says Hugo Vuillet, one of the students on the development team. Receiving an award from a jury of EPFL professors, their system proved so effective that the company they worked with, IcosaMed, a start-up based in the canton of Neuchâtel, decided to continue the adventure.

A fruitful partnership between education and the private sector

Working with engineers at IcosaMed, the students developed a plastic interface to replace the impedance gel that is typically used to hold the ultrasonic emitters. “Our partnership showed that students can offer concrete solutions to even highly technical problems,” says Max Boysset, CEO and Founder of IcosaMed.

The SmartBra will initially be sold to women who have already been diagnosed with cancer, so that they can monitor their condition on a daily basis, followed by women with a genetic predisposition to developing cancer. If everything goes according to plan, the SmartBra could pave the way for other high-potential products using smart textiles – like underwear and bodysuits – to detect and prevent other types of cancers.

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