An innovation by Japanese researchers may soon allow healthcare practitioners to physically screen for breast cancer tumors using pressure-sensitive rubber gloves. The work was published in Nature Nanotechnology.
Sungwon Lee and Professor Takao Someya of the University of Tokyo’s Graduate School of Engineering have developed a new pressure sensor which is thin and resilient enough to fit into a glove. These gloves supercharge the sense of touch allowing wearers to detect cancer very early on.
While getting a regular doctor’s exam is a very effective way to catch early signs of breast cancer, the telltale hardness of a tumor is easy to miss when rubber surgical gloves are used. The pressure sensitive gloves are expected to combat this inconvenience. The gloves use pressure sensors using organic transistors made of carbon nanontubes, graphene, carbon, and oxygen.
These sensors can mold to the human hand and posses’ one fifth the thickness of a human hair strand and can measure pressure in 144 places at once. Pressure sensors flexible enough to mold themselves to the contours of a human hand have been available for awhile now, but they can’t handle bending, twisting, or wrinkling while still giving accurate measurements.
The sensors that power those gloves could be useful in all kinds of non-medical scenarios, too.
Outfitted with the right software, these sensors could be used in lieu of surgical gloves to help doctors detect tumors by touch alone.
Although flexible pressure sensors already exist, they cannot measure pressure changes accurately once they are distorted. Existing technology also can’t make the sensors thin enough to be incorporated into materials such as latex, and once distorted they no longer produce accurate signals.
But according to the team, this same technology has just as much potential for implantable and wearable devices. Sadly, they didn’t go as far as to name them, but it’s easy to imagine the possibilities. Just a few uses that come to mind include a smart tattoo that could also function as a touchpad, touch sensitive clothing that can go through the wash, or pressure-sensing VR gloves as thin as the ones you use to do the dishes that can detect how you’re moving your fingers. Saving lives might be just the start for this technology.