Better Diagnosis of Breast Cancer
April 30, 2014
Polish researchers from the Braster company have developed a new method that they say will make it easier for doctors to detect breast cancer in its early stages.
Their new approach is based on liquid crystal contact thermography. With a simple test, women will be able to carry out examinations themselves. The breast examination procedure is non-invasive and safe for the patient.
A clinical study completed in February showed the method—based on the so-called Tester Braster device—is effective and useful in the diagnosis of breast cancer.
The method is based on the detection of abnormalities, including cancer lesions, with thermography, or the examination of temperature changes in the tissue. In combination with other methods such as mammography, it ensures a broad spectrum of diagnostics for patients, regardless of their age, the researchers say. They add that the new method separately detects cyst-type changes and malignant abnormalities.
The use of liquid crystals in medicine has long been the subject of research. “The liquid crystal state of matter was first observed in the late 19th century, but it was not until the 1960s that interest in liquid crystals increased significantly,” says Dr. Henryk Jaremek, head of the research team and vice-president and chief operating officer of the Braster company.
The breast examination procedure involves the use of a special liquid crystal matrix, a thermal screen that does not require any power supply. During the test the screen displays color images of temperature anomalies. This is possible thanks to the special properties of liquid crystals, namely a mixture of liquid crystal fractions that change their color under the influence of heat.
The test does not carry the kind of risk posed by x-rays. It makes it possible to perform breast examinations frequently, which promotes early detection of cancer.
“Our work focuses on so-called chiral liquid crystal compounds that have the ability to selectively reflect light as a function of temperature,” says Jaremek. Special thermographic film, when applied to the surface of the breast, shows temperature distribution using three colors: red, green and blue. The method is called contact thermography and is used in the Tester Braster device.
The method uses the so-called dermo-thermal effect, which, generally speaking, is based on the fact that lesions within the breast are accompanied by either an increase or a decrease in temperature, which can be observed on the surface of the breast with sensitive instruments. Clinical studies and experiments have shown that clusters of cancer cells tend to have a higher temperature than the surrounding tissue. This is a result of the accelerated metabolism of cancer cells as well as their ability to produce chemicals that stimulate rapid growth of pathological blood vessels. The more advanced the cancer, the greater the temperature difference. In turn, cysts and benign lesions have a temperature lower than healthy tissue, the researchers say.
To develop their unique method and put it to practical use along commercial lines, in 2008 the researchers established the Braster company, which is now listed on the Warsaw Stock Exchange’s NewConnect alternative market.
An ordinary thermographic examination takes about 12 minutes, while a full clinical procedure lasts from 20 to 30 minutes. The doctor classifies individual thermal images obtained on the screen as either normal or pathological. Observations are made on an ongoing basis and take into account temperature differences of at least half a degree Celsius.
The researchers have drawn up a special chart of basic patterns of thermal anomalies that can be seen on a thermogram of the breast. If the infrared image of one or both breasts shows any of the thermal anomaly patterns, such a thermogram is a possible indication of breast cancer.
The clinical study was conducted on women with breast pathology. The women were referred for in-depth diagnostics in specialized centers under a program financed by the National Health Fund. Over six months, doctors used the new method to examine 736 women and diagnosed 72 cases of breast cancer.
It turned out that breast cancer detection was higher when a combination of two methods was used, mammography and thermography, rather than mammography alone.
In March, the researchers secured patent protection for their liquid crystal contact thermography method in the European Patent Office. Earlier their proprietary technology used in the Tester Braster system received patent protection in countries including the United States, Canada, China and Australia.
Krzysztof Pawelczyk, CEO of Braster, said, “Securing patent protection from the European Patent Office opens the door wide to putting the Tester Braster device to commercial use on selected European markets. We have also filed patent documents in other countries. We can now decide in which countries these patents will be valid. We are considering countries such as Germany, France, Britain, and the Benelux and Scandinavian countries as well as Poland.”
Work to develop the new method began in 2007 and involved researchers including Prof. Józef Żmija and Prof. Roman D±browski from the Military University of Technology in Warsaw as well as Dr. Jacek Stępień, in addition to Jaremek. The researchers developed their method and implemented a prototype of the system in collaboration with Prof. Krzysztof Czupryński and Stanisław Kłosowicz from the Department of New Technology at the Military University of Technology and Prof. Janusz Stanowski and Prof. Roma Bogusławska-Walecka from the Military Institute of Medicine in Warsaw.