Rohde & Schwarz has supplied high speed vector network analysers to Bristol University spin-out Micrima for the clinical trials of their revolutionary breast cancer screening technique. MARIA (Multistatic Array processing for Radiowave Image Acquisition) is an ultra wideband radio system that can be used to detect tumours by generating high-resolution 3D images of the human breast. The technique which avoids exposing women to X-ray radiation, is fast and inexpensive. It is also expected to be better at identifying breast cancer in younger women.
Professor Ian Craddock and Professor Alan Preece from Bristol University developed the wideband antenna array, which lies comfortably beneath the breast. The array connects via a switch matrix to the test ports of a R&S ZVT8 Vector Network Analyzer, which takes fast frequency sweep measurements. Post-processing is carried out on a computer using software developed by the research group.
Roy Johnson, Executive Chairman of Micrima, said: “The new 3D breast screening platform under development aims to be safer, more convenient and more economically viable in a greater number of countries, in addition to providing a practical solution to screening women below the age of 50.”
Funding from Micrima has enabled the radar-based breast imaging system to undergo further technical development and clinical trials. The first set of clinical trials have just concluded. Conducted at Frenchay Hospital’s Breast Care Centre in Bristol in collaboration with Dr Mike Shere, as well as Southmead Hospital in Bristol, they have been very successful.
Commented Professor Ian Craddock from Electrical & Electronic Engineering at Bristol University: “Current mammography systems play an important role in the detection of breast cancer but suffer from relatively high missed- and false-detection rates, and involve uncomfortable compression of the breast.”
He added: “Speed of measurement is critical for this application. We were therefore very impressed by the fast measurement capability offered by the R & S ZVT8 8 Port Network Analyser. The analyser’s parallel data acquisition across 16 receivers has enabled us to reduce measurement time from a little over one minute to nine seconds, which is good news for patients and for screening throughput.”
“In addition to the R&S ZVT’s speed, its ability to emulate other network analyzers has meant that the Bristol team has been able to get up to speed with the new instrument
much faster,” said Jamie Lunn, Rohde & Schwarz UK’s RF & Microwave product specialist. He concluded: “We are immensely proud that our instrumentation is being used to progress such a valuable research goal.”
Micrima’s goal is to create a compact, low cost version of the MARIA system that could be situated in GP surgeries and mobile screening units. With breast cancer being the most common cause of death for women aged between 35 and 59 in Europe, it is hoped by all involved that the technique may eventually ensure that all women, regardless of age, could be routinely screened.