Michael Braukus

Headquarters, Washington, D.C.

(Phone: 202/358-1979)

Ann Hutchison

Ames Research Center, Moffett Field, CA

(Phone: 650/604-0176)



A Silicon Valley start-up company has obtained a license to develop,
produce and market an innovative diagnostic device for early breast cancer
detection based on technology originally developed by NASA researchers.

San Jose-based BioLuminate, Inc. plans to develop a commercial version of
the “Smart Surgical Probe” originally developed at NASA’s Ames Research
Center in the heart of California’s Silicon Valley. The probe is a small,
disposable needle with multiple sensors. It has the potential to enable
physicians to diagnose tumors without surgery, thereby dramatically
reducing the number of breast biopsies that women may have to undergo

“This device is being developed to make real-time, detailed interpretations
of breast tissue at the tip of the needle,” said Robert Mah, the NASA Ames
scientist who invented the technology. “The instrument may allow health
care providers to make expert, accurate diagnoses as well as to suggest
proper, individualized treatment, even in remote areas,” he said.

“Every week in the United States, approximately 18,000 surgical breast
biopsies are performed on women with suspicious breast lesions,” said
BioLuminate chief executive officer Richard Hular. “By taking the NASA Ames
Smart Probe and developing it further, BioLuminate hopes to be able to
produce a real-time-measurement instrument that will reduce the need for
surgery. If we are successful, the probe will significantly improve women’s
health care, and could potentially reduce annual health care costs,” said

Further development of the smart surgical probe is focused on
distinguishing cancer tissue types and obtaining real-time measurements.
“The probe uses special neural net software developed at Ames that “learns”
from experience. This enables the instrument to detect the physiologic
signs of cancer and may predict its progress,” explained Mah.

The breast cancer tool is being developed in collaboration with Stanford
University School of Medicine, Stanford, CA. It is a spin-off from a
computerized robotic brain surgery ‘assistant’ previously developed by Mah
and Stanford neurosurgeon Dr. Russell Andrews. The larger brain-surgery
device is a simple robot that can “learn” the physical characteristics of
the brain. It soon may give surgeons finer control of surgical instruments
during delicate brain operations.

This commercial venture demonstrates how NASA’s commercial technology
offices pursue their mission to maximize NASA’s research efforts by
inviting U.S. industry to benefit from NASA-developed technologies. NASA
reaches out to the business community in a way that leverages the Agency’s
resources with those of the private sector. The objective is to stimulate
job growth and increase the competitiveness of American products in the
global marketplace.