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RFID tags could ease breast cancer surgery

A team of researchers at the University of Wisconsin has designed a solution that could ease the surgical process for breast cancer patients while potentially saving the healthcare system hundreds of millions of dollars.

Part of the current process to remove a cancerous tumor from a breast includes inserting a localization wire into the breast before surgery, which identifies the tumor’s location and assists doctors during removal.

Dan van der Weide (left) and radiology professor Fred Lee discuss a less invasive RFID solution for treating breast cancer.

University of Wisconsin researchers, however, propose replacing that decades-old and archaic procedure by inserting an RFID device into the tumor during a prior needle biopsy. The non-invasive procedure would then provide an accurate signal for doctors if surgery was required.

“We think that this current procedure is pretty barbaric,” says Dan van der Weide, a professor of electrical and computer engineering at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. “Not to mention, it’s is very discomforting to the patient. We think an RFID-like approach is best.”

The research team has formed a company called Elucent Medical to commercialize the solution. The next step for researchers is to submit paperwork to the FDA that will allow for a chip to remain in the body in the event of a negative biopsy. The group hopes to submit its work to FDA by the middle of next year. The RFID solution could completely replace the wire-implant procedure, which costs about $2,500 per patient.

One of Elucent’s main technical challenges is to create a new kind of RFID tag that will better adapt the technology to localization purposes.

“There’s no facility for saying, look, the tag is exactly 3.5 cm deep and over 1 cm from where your reader is,” van der Weide says. He is currently working on designing a coil array that can wrap around an RFID tag and provide more precise location data via a wand-like reader in the operating room.

In addition to increasing patient safety and removing costs from the surgical process, inserting a low frequency passive RFID tag into the tumor greatly simplifies the surgical process.

Lee Wilke, director of the UW Health Breast Center and a UW-Madison professor of surgery, says that the localization wire creates all kinds of obstacles to the end goal of removing a tumor while preserving as much healthy breast tissue as possible.

For example, the wire is inserted when the breast is compressed in a mammogram machine or under ultrasound guidance. If the mass or cancer is in the center of the breast, there may be a distance of more than two inches from that mass to the skin where the wire must exit.

“I get a 2-D picture of where the wire is in the breast, but it’s a 3-D event — and requires piecing the pictures together to find the cancer,” says Wilke.

Even at best, the localization wire is simply marking one point along the boundary of the tumor, leaving it to the surgeon to figure out the rest of the picture. “The wire can be very biased, because it only comes from one direction,” Wilke says. “It’s been this way for more than 30 years.”

Because the RFID tag could be implanted while the patient undergoes a biopsy, it essentially would eliminate not only the wire but also the entire localization wire-implant procedure.

In other news, the RFID research lab housed by the industrial engineering department at the University of Wisconsin has been replaced by a new lab that will focus its work on the Internet of Things.

 

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