Any woman can testify that mammograms are at best unpleasant and at worst painful.
But this gold-standard imaging modality for breast cancer screening has additional drawbacks: It exposes the woman to ionizing radiation, has limited accuracy in patients with dense breast tissue and results in many false positives, leading to unnecessary biopsies.
Well, here’s some hopeful news: Israeli startup ThermoMind is developing a thermal-sensor-based, contact-free, radiation-free screening modality for detecting early-stage breast tumors.
The idea of using thermography isn’t new. It’s known that even the earliest cancerous growth causes increased blood flow at warmer temperatures and additional blood vessel formation to feed the malignancy.
“Thermography was in the market since 1982 and a lot of research was done but nothing came of it,” says cofounder Najeeb Ayoub. Unfortunately, the technology just wasn’t advanced enough.
“Researchers knew that changes in thermal patterns show there are changes in vascularity in cancer and can help determine the stage of cancer as well,” says cofounder Larisa Adamyan.
“Today, when computer vision is at its peak, we have very sensitive sensors and know how to work with them. We decided we need to unleash this technology’s full potential.”
Beginning clinical trials
Fifteen ThermoBreast devices are being built to be deployed for clinical trials starting this summer in 11 hospitals in the US, Europe, Israel. Some 28,000 participants are to be screened over the next three years.
ThermoMind’s technology is based on Israeli infrared sensors developed by market leader SCD for the homeland security and defense industry.
“Our challenge was to adjust this technology for thermal imaging in healthcare, which now any other healthcare company can access,” says Ayoub.
She says the technology identifies thermal signs suggesting a pre-cancerous state or the presence of an early tumor that is not yet large enough to be detected by physical examination or mammography.
Within minutes, the dynamic AI-based thermal image decision support system detects metabolic and vascular changes within breasts caused by cancer, without touching the patient.
Using custom, military-grade infrared cameras to capture thermal images and store them on a computer for AI analysis of heat patterns, the system can be easily integrated into the existing diagnostic process.