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Darren Roblyer’s wearable sensors conform to the breast and use an array of LEDs and optical sensors that can noninvasively monitor a breast cancer patient’s response to chemotherapy over time. (Credit: Jackie Ricciardi)

A device allows doctors to peer through the skin into breast cancer tumors and see their response to chemotherapy. Its readouts are instantaneous, and preliminary studies offer hope that the technology may someday provide doctors with information that currently eludes them: an immediate alert when drugs aren’t working.

The wearable sensors conform to the breast and use an array of LEDs and optical sensors that can noninvasively monitor a breast cancer patient’s response to chemotherapy over time. The device is designed to help the 10–25 percent of women don’t respond to the chemotherapy and spend months suffering its side effects without any benefit.

The technology sends near-infrared light into tissue and measures what is reflected back. The technique can measure tissue several centimeters below the surface of the skin. Near-infrared spectroscopy is used in neuroscience research to detect brain activity near the surface of the brain. The light shines through the skin and skull and detects changes in blood flow that indicate brain activity.

If clinical tests over the coming years confirm early results, researchers hope the device will provide doctors with better information more quickly, so they can change a patient’s treatment plan and avoid wasted time and emergency surgeries. The idea is to use optical feedback to personalize and improve treatment for each patient.

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