A new reusable device created by the Johns Hopkins University can help women with breast cancer in lower income countries by using carbon dioxide, a widely available and affordable gas, to power a cancer tissue-freezing probe instead of industry-standard argon.
A study detailing the tool's success in animals was published this month in PLOS One.
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"Innovation in cancer care doesn't always mean you have to create an entirely new treatment, sometimes it means radically innovating on proven therapies such that they're redesigned to be accessible to the majority of the world's population," says Bailey Surtees, a recent Johns Hopkins University biomedical engineering graduate and the study's first author.
"This project is a remarkable example of success from the Biomedical Engineering Design Program," says Nicholas Durr, an Assistant Professor of Biomedical Engineering at Johns Hopkins and the study's senior author. "This team of undergraduates has been so successful because they created a practical solution for the problem after really understanding the constraints that needed to be met to be impactful."
The largest cause of cancer-related mortality for women across the globe, breast cancer disproportionately affects women in lower-income countries due to lack of treatment. While the survival rate for women in the United States is greater than 90%, they are significantly lower at 64%, 46% and 12% in Saudi Arabia, Uganda and The Gambia, respectively.
"Instead of saying 'She has breast cancer," the locals we met while conducting focus groups for our research said 'She has death,' because breast cancer is often considered an automatic death sentence in these communities," adds Surtees.
In lower-income countries, the main barriers to treating breast cancer are inadequate treatment options--with surgery, chemotherapy and radiation being impractical or too expensive--and long travel times to regional hospitals where efficient treatment is available. Even if a woman is able to travel to a hospital for treatment, she may not be seen and recovery times will keep her out of work for an additional few weeks.
Killing cancerous tissue with cold, or cryoablation, is preferable to surgically removing tumors in these countries because it eliminates the need for a sterile operating room and anesthesia, thus making it possible to local clinics to perform the procedure. It's also minimally invasive, thereby reducing complications such as pain, bleeding and extended recovery time.