Inventor Ken Wright said his technical expertise has helped U.S. Navy submarines peer through murky water and enabled the movie Titanic to film underwater. Now, he wants to use similar technology to help women scan their breasts for cancer-causing tumors from their homes.
On Tuesday, his company Eclipse Breast Health Technologies launched a campaign on crowdfunding site Indiegogo to raise $650,000. The Carlsbad, Calif.-based startup has already raised about $780,000 in seed funding. But like the Scanadu’s crowdfunding campaign for the Scout “tricorder” device, Eclipse’s campaign isn’t just about raising money to move its product out of beta and into the market. It’s about getting user feedback that it hopes to submit to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration when it applies for approval.
Each month, women are advised to perform a breast self-exam to feel for lumps or changes that might indicate cancer. But Eclipse said its device, which is about the size of a small computer mouse, is five times more sensitive than the human hand.
Much like Wright’s previous technology, which allows people to “see” through obstructed water, the Eclipse uses sensors and low-level photons (LED lights) to produce images of women’s breasts. As women move the device over the surface of their skin, the images stitch together to generate macro pictures of each breast that can be viewed on a computer screen or mobile device and saved for future reference.
Tracking changes to detect problems
“This is a digital device that allows you to see what you normally wouldn’t be able to feel,” Wright said.
The idea is that women would first use the device to create baseline images of a healthy breast and then generate new images every month. Using a combination of algorithms and human medical expertise, Wright said, the company would alert women when it detected changes that could indicate cancer.
Assuming the campaign is successful, Wright said in March 2014 the company hopes to start shipping a device that costs between $99 and $199 or is free with a monthly subscription plan that includes data storage and analysis and monthly updates.
In addition to targeting women with an at-home device, Wright said the company also plans to market to doctors’ practices. For physicians in the U.S., the Eclipse could help with routine patient exams and, in the developing world, this device and more advanced versions that are in the works could potentially do the work of more expensive mammograms, he said.
Will it actually work?
The Eclipse is the latest project that aims to give people more at-home tools for digitally monitoring their health – earlier this year, Biosense Technologies launched an app-based kit that lets people analyze their urine and, last month, Pixie Scientific made headlines with a “smart” diaper that uses camera technology and chemistry to determine when an infant might have a urinary tract infection or other problem. But my worry is that, like the home dopplers that let women monitor their babies’ heart rates from home, if it isn’t careful the Eclipse could lead to unnecessary worry or a false sense of security.
Given the importance of early detection in successfully treating breast cancer, I’m all for advancements that could help women stay on top of their health. But I think Eclipse has a ways to go in proving that its device is actually helpful. Many changes in breast tissue do not indicate breast cancer — they may be caused by fibrosis or cysts — and some say up to 80 percent of breast lumps are benign. Also, women’s breasts can change with their menstrual cycle over the course of a month. That could make it even more difficult for Wright’s technology to capture a baseline image and accurately track changes.