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Oct. 26, 2001

Michael Braukus

Headquarters, Washington

(Phone: 202/358-1979)


Victoria Kushnir

Ames Research Center, Moffett Field, Calif.

(Phone: 650/604-0176)

e-mail logo vkushnir@mail.arc.nasa.gov


RELEASE: 01-78AR

NASA SMART SURGICAL PROBE TO BEGIN CLINICAL TESTS

A revolutionary early breast cancer-detection tool based on NASA technology will begin human clinical trials next week after receiving the go-ahead from the Food and Drug Administration.

Dublin, California-based BioLuminate Inc., the start-up company licensed by NASA to develop, produce and market the "Smart Surgical Probe," is set to begin human testing on volunteer patients at the University of California (UC) Medical Center in Davis and at the University of California, San Francisco (UCSF). The Smart Surgical Probe originally was developed by Dr. Robert Mah at NASA's Ames Research Center, Moffett Field, Calif.

"This device is being developed to make real-time, detailed interpretations of breast tissue at the tip of the needle," said Mah. "The instrument may allow health care providers to make expert, accurate diagnoses as well as to suggest proper, individualized treatment, even for patients in remote areas," he said. The probe is a small, disposable needle with multiple sensors. This technology and resulting product may enable physicians to diagnose tumors without surgery, thereby dramatically reducing the number of unnecessary breast biopsies women undergo annually.

Smart Probe's sensors begin gathering information the moment the needle is inserted into tissue. Computer software eventually will compare the real-time measurements to a set of known, archived parameters that indicate the presence or absence of cancer, and display the results on a computer screen.

Over 200 patients who are scheduled for a surgical biopsy will be invited to volunteer to be tested with the Smart Probe prior to their medical procedure. Recorded data then will be used to "teach" the probe to distinguish cancerous tissue from benign.
"With the knowledge gained from this study, we will be able to develop the first 'commercial' prototype. That prototype will be used in our next clinical study, which will involve nearly 10,000 women," said BioLuminate President and CEO Richard Hular. "The data we acquire each time the needle is inserted into a suspicious lesion later confirmed to be cancerous enables us to teach the computer to become more accurate and recognize cancerous tissue on its own."

Every week in the United States, approximately 18,000 surgical breast biopsies are performed on women with suspicious breast lesions that later are determined to be benign. By taking the Ames Smart Probe and developing it further in collaboration with the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, Livermore, Calif., BioLuminate hopes to be able to produce a real-time-measurement instrument that will reduce the need for unnecessary surgery. "If we are successful, the probe will significantly improve women's health care, and could potentially reduce annual health care costs," said Hular.

"With BioLuminate, we have taken the multi-sensor NASA concept, selected new optical sensor technology and packaged it into a thin needle-sized instrument that can pinpoint whether a tumor in the breast is cancerous or benign," said John Marion, Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory's principle investigator for the Smart Probe.

"The BioLuminate needle offers the potential to improve localization of cancer tissue, eliminate removal of tissue and the associated complications, and most importantly get more accurate information for diagnosis," said Lydia Howell, M.D., director of cytology and professor of pathology at UC Davis. "The information obtained by the needle also has the potential to be useful in predicting how a cancer may behave. The needle may be able to not only distinguish benign lumps from cancerous lumps, but also to distinguish which cancers are more aggressive so the patient can receive stronger therapies."

"This is an exciting technology that has immediate and future promise to improve the treatment of breast cancer," said Laura Esserman, M.D., MBA, director of the Carol Franc Buck Breast Care Center at the UCSF Comprehensive Cancer Center. "I also am excited by the possibility that this technology would help us to evaluate the presence of residual disease at the time of surgical excision, thereby reducing the need for additional surgery for women who are being treated using breast conservation."

On Oct. 29 and 30, BioLuminate's Smart Surgical Probe will be showcased at the "Medtech Insight" 'IN3 East Fall 2001 conference in New York City. At approximately the same time, human testing will begin at UC Davis Medical Center.

"The commercialization of this NASA technology is an outstanding example of applying space research technology to bring health care benefits down to Earth," noted Phil Herlth, of the Ames Commercial Technology Office.

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