Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory (LLNL; Livermore, CA) and NASA Ames Research Center are partnering with BioLuminate Inc. (San Jose, CA) to commercialize a prototype tool for cancer detection called a Smart Probe. The device, which is smaller than the needle used in routine blood tests, is inserted into breast tissue after an initial screening indicates an area of concern. Without removing tissue, the probe reportedly can spot 5 to 7 known indicators of breast cancer within a minute.
Sensors on the tip of the probe measure optical, electrical, and chemical properties that are known to differ between healthy and cancerous tissues--including oxygen partial pressure, electrical impedance, and the light scattering and absorption properties of deoxygenated hemoglobin, vascularization, and tissue density. Computer software then compares the data to a set of known, archived parameters that indicate the presence or absence of cancer. The results are displayed instantly on a computer screen.
According to project researchers, the tool has the potential to offer earlier, more accurate breast cancer detection without tissue removal at accuracy levels comparable to surgical biopsies. First human studies using the device are expected to begin this spring at sites to be selected in Northern California. The device is expected to be commercially available by 2003.
Eventually, the scientists expect the "Smart Probe" will help with the detection of prostate, lung, colon, cervical and brain cancer.