AMHERST, MAAnatoliy Boryssenko, an Associate Professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering and a Researcher at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, is building a portable breastcancer screening-device alternative that uses low-power microwaves. This device could bring modern breast-cancer screening to third-world countries without the danger, expense, and access problems of X-ray-based machines. It also could be useful as a second opinion to complement conventional mammography.

The painless new technique would take advantage of the fact that normal breast tissue and cancer cells have different electrical properties. Those differences can be identified and measured using an array of tiny transmitters and external sensors embedded in the walls of a cylinder, which fits comfortably around the breast. With the subject lying face down on a special table and the cylinder fitted around the suspended breast, breast tissues are bathed in a low-power microwave-frequency electromagnetic field for a short time (see figure). By collecting feedback scattered from tissues and running this data through software, which is designed to recognize the electric signatures of normal versus tumor tissue, the machine detects differences.

Boryssenko recently received two seed grants totaling just under $60,000 from the nonprofit, Friends for an Earlier Breast Cancer Test, and the Collaborative Biomedical UMass-Baystate Research. The grants were given to design and build a prototype and test its effectiveness for breast-cancer screening. Boryssenko's student, senior Christopher Merola, will do much of the actual construction, calibration, and testing at the University of Massachusetts Amherst Center for Advanced Sensor and Communication Antennas (CASCA) at Baystate Medical Center in Springfield. According to Boryssenko, a prototype can be ready in about four months.

See associated figure