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BME seniors create breast cancer models to help with disease detection

Breast tissue imaging

Even though breast cancer is the most prevalent cancer in women, affecting about 1 in 8 women, physicians and women often have trouble detecting tumors through manual exams due to lack of practice.

A team of biomedical engineering students, including Reza Ahmadi, Lubna Shah, Joshua Pangilinan, Lesly Villarreal, and Sahar Baki, decided to tackle this issue for their senior design project this year.

The students created four realistic human breast models with cancerous-like tumors implanted inside to help teach women and clinicians how to better detect tumors during clinical and self-guided breast exams.

The different models have tumors at different depths and locations, with each progressively deeper and harder to find from the first to the fourth model. The team hopes this tiered system will help women and doctors detect tumors in the early stages of breast cancer.

“These models are supposed to be used to educate these people so that they gain the experience of what to look for through palpation,” the team said. “This project does not help prevent the outcome of breast cancer patients; however, these models should help patients detect breast cancer at its early stages.”

The biggest challenge the group faced was creating the actual models themselves. An early prototype used a pre-made silicone breast implant, with erasers as tumors, but a thin layer of silicone skin fell apart due to an issue with the glue connecting the implant and the silicone.

Using that lesson, the team created its Hi-Fi prototype that includes artificial breast tissue, tumors, skin, and nipple, from scratch using 3D molds. They also had to troubleshoot several silicone leaks by improving the resolution of their 3D printing file and using clay to seal the small holes in the mold.

All five members of the team were particularly motivated by their personal experiences with the disease.

“Because breast cancer is such a prevalent disease worldwide and affects so many people, each member of our team was motivated to work on this project based on their personal experience with their loved ones,” Ahmadi said.