‘Smart Bra’ Could Provide Speedy, Early Warning of Cancer

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By Chris Carroll | Photo by John T. Consoli

An innovative mix of latex and nanoparticles originally designed in the lab of mechanical engineering Professor Elisabeth Smela to give robots “skin” to sense their environments could now provide a critical early warning of breast cancer.

The flexible coating, which senses pressure through changes in electrical resistance, lines a bra-like garment that can “feel” cancerous lumps before the disease spreads. Under development as a prototype, the idea was spurred by a conversation with a doctor in India who has too many patients and too few trained assistants to do manual breast exams.

Medical personnel without specialized training in developing countries could use a simple, low-cost “smart bra,” sensing lumps within seconds of the garment being donned. “We’re looking for something that would alert to the presence of stage 2 cancer when it is still treatable,” Smela said.

The project was part of the MPact Challenge, devised by then-A. James Clark School of Engineering Dean Darryll J. Pines (now UMD president) to celebrate the school’s 125th anniversary in 2019 with a range of creative and impactful engineering projects, and funded in part by the A. James & Alice B. Clark Foundation.

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