A robot designed to emulate human touch with advanced sensors could dramatically shift the landscape of women's health.
By detecting lumps in breast tissue at depths previously unattainable, the device, developed by the University of Bristol, offers the potential for earlier and more accurate detection of breast cancer, a crucial advancement that could save countless lives.
The hand-like device is capable of applying forces akin to those used by human examiners during Clinical Breast Examinations (CBEs).
The robot was created using 3D printing and was tested on a silicone breast modelled on a volunteer from a research group at Imperial College London, allowing the team to perform thousands of breast examinations and test hypothetical scenarios.
Developed by the Bristol Robotics Laboratory, the research was led by George Jenkinson, a PhD student.
"Our robotic system has showcased the required dexterity for a clinical breast examination," Mr Jenkinson said.
"We're optimistic about its future role in aiding early cancer diagnosis."
Breast Cancer Now's Dr Kotryna Temcinaite acknowledged the robot's significance but also emphasised the importance of continuing reliance on current diagnostic measures.
She said: “This is a promising step, but regular breast screenings remain essential.”
The device is a part of the Artemis project (Advanced Robotic Breast Examination Intelligent System), which is backed by Cancer Research UK.
Under the guidance of Dr. Antonia Tzemanaki, this innovative research was born through a collaborative effort involving both postgraduate and undergraduate students.
Plans are under way to integrate AI technology with expert CBE techniques in the project's next stage.
The amalgamation, enhanced with a comprehensive sensor suite, will further evaluate the system's capacity to detect potential cancer indicators.
The ultimate aspiration is for the robot to discern lumps even more effectively than human touch alone and to complement established diagnostic methods, including ultrasound.
Given that 44 per cent of UK women neglect regular breast cancer screenings, the implications of this development are profound.
However, as Dr Temcinaite highlighted, the current breast screening infrastructure in the UK requires urgent bolstering.
The Bristol Robotics Laboratory foresees this robot being accessible in convenient locations, such as pharmacies and health centres, ensuring women have broadened access to top-tier breast health monitoring.