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Nov.14, 2000

Michael Braukus

Headquarters, Washington, D.C.

(Phone: 202/358-1979)

Ann Hutchison

Ames Research Center, Moffett Field, CA

(Phone: 650/604-0176)



A Silicon Valley start-up company has obtained a license to develop, produce and market an innovative diagnostic device for early breast cancer detection based on technology originally developed by NASA researchers.

San Jose-based BioLuminate, Inc. plans to develop a commercial version of the "Smart Surgical Probe" originally developed at NASA’s Ames Research Center in the heart of California’s Silicon Valley. The probe is a small, disposable needle with multiple sensors. It has the potential to enable physicians to diagnose tumors without surgery, thereby dramatically reducing the number of breast biopsies that women may have to undergo annually.

"This device is being developed to make real-time, detailed interpretations of breast tissue at the tip of the needle," said Robert Mah, the NASA Ames scientist who invented the technology. "The instrument may allow health care providers to make expert, accurate diagnoses as well as to suggest proper, individualized treatment, even in remote areas," he said.

"Every week in the United States, approximately 18,000 surgical breast biopsies are performed on women with suspicious breast lesions," said BioLuminate chief executive officer Richard Hular. "By taking the NASA Ames Smart Probe and developing it further, BioLuminate hopes to be able to produce a real-time-measurement instrument that will reduce the need for surgery. If we are successful, the probe will significantly improve women’s health care, and could potentially reduce annual health care costs," said Hular.

Further development of the smart surgical probe is focused on distinguishing cancer tissue types and obtaining real-time measurements. "The probe uses special neural net software developed at Ames that "learns" from experience. This enables the instrument to detect the physiologic signs of cancer and may predict its progress," explained Mah.

The breast cancer tool is being developed in collaboration with Stanford University School of Medicine, Stanford, CA. It is a spin-off from a computerized robotic brain surgery ‘assistant’ previously developed by Mah and Stanford neurosurgeon Dr. Russell Andrews. The larger brain-surgery device is a simple robot that can "learn" the physical characteristics of the brain. It soon may give surgeons finer control of surgical instruments during delicate brain operations.

This commercial venture demonstrates how NASA's commercial technology offices pursue their mission to maximize NASA's research efforts by inviting U.S. industry to benefit from NASA-developed technologies. NASA reaches out to the business community in a way that leverages the Agency's resources with those of the private sector. The objective is to stimulate job growth and increase the competitiveness of American products in the global marketplace.

Images of the Smart Sugical Probe


A video file related to this news release is airing, today, Nov. 14, 2000, on the NASA Television satellite feed. Story may also be fed on Nov. 15. Please check internet web site for updates: video file for Nov. 14, 2000 item 1 - smart probe - Ames item 2 - near low-altitude flyover of EROS - Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory This heads-up announces our most current line-up of stories on NASA's daily video file feed. As we try to provide you the best, most current service possible, the line-up may change throughout the day. Any changes to the line-up will appear on the NASA video file advisory on the web at: The advisory is updated throughout the day as necessary. NASA Television is available on ge-2, transponder 9c at 85 degrees west longitude, with vertical polarization. Frequency is on 3880.0 megahertz, with audio on 6.8 megahertz. For general questions about the video file call NASA Headquarters, Washington, DC: Fred Brown 202/358-0713.

NTV Video file: This advisory to the news media describes the most current audio and video resource material of Agency events. The advisory is updated daily around 2 p.m. (Eastern Standard or Daylight Time). The video file airs.weekdays at noon (EST or EDT), with replays at 3 p.m., 6 p.m., 9 p.m. and midnight.




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