Technology developed by a Drexel University researcher is closer to improving lives after a grant from the Pennsylvania Department of Health earlier this week.
The new device can detect breast cancer without the use of radiation. And the Drexel scientist behind it is a breast cancer survivor herself.
Dr. Wan Shih started working on the device in 2000, which is designed to literally feel small tumors in the breast with super sensitive fingerlike sensors. Shih had been honing the technology for years, working through R&D and early testing.
Then, in 2008, she became a patient.
“I didn’t really realize the hurt and the pain and all the things that are either painful or inconvenient for people who are being tested — until I was a patient,” Shih says.
Shih ultimately beat the breast cancer and pressed on with her work, receiving funding to leapfrog its development every step of the way.
Now, the Intelligent Breast Exam (iBE) device is in the hands of a private company and a few steps away from clinics around the world.
“This is actually an absolute game changer,” says Mihir Shah, founder and CEO of UE LifeSciences. His company licensed the technology from Drexel and is working to bring it to market.
Shah says the ultra-portable, ultra-low cost device could make a huge impact — especially among women in the developing world.
“The doctor would use this handheld device that looks much like a computer mouse and he would roll the device around the breast,” Shah says. “And in a few minutes, [the doctor] will get a accurate analysis of ‘were there any tumors found’ and ‘what should be the next steps.’ “
Dr. Ari Brooks, a Drexel surgeon who helped develop and test the device, wants to emphasize that iBE is not meant to replace existing technologies.
He says it’s another weapon doctors can use to fight breast cancer, especially in women along the edges of the health system.
“And where are the edges?” says Brooks. “The edges are the dense breast, the younger woman, the uninsured, or the inaccessible in third world countries or things like that. Those people don’t have access to what we have in the mammogram mainstream, and so we need this device for those people.”
Brooks, also the associate vice dean for research at Drexel’s College of Medicine, says iBE is “an example of everything going right” in transferring technology from university to small business.
As for the latest step in the 12-year process, Shih likens it to sending children off to college.
“You are excited that you can continue to interact with them, and you are also looking forward to something new,” says Shih.
UE LifeSciences says the device should become commercially available in two to three years. The $878,422 grant from the state will go toward building a commercial prototype as well as conducting additional clinical testing, according to CEO Shah.