As part of her masters program, Kathy Reid developed a breast prosthetic that collects data on the wearer’s recovery. (ABC News: Aaron Hollett )
From smart watches to exercise monitors and devices that correct your posture, wearable tech is everywhere — and now cancer survivor Kathy Reid has invented a smart breast.
- The prosthesis can monitor movement, temperature, and pressure and collects data using a microchip
- The data could help tailor and improve physiotherapy treatment for women recovering after breast surgery
- The technology has been made available online for others to improve and refine
The applied cybernetics student put her faith in science when doctors told her she had the kind of aggressive breast cancer “you really don’t want”.
A decade after her diagnosis, she has developed a prototype smart prosthetic breast that she hopes will improve recovery of other breast cancer survivors.
“For me this has been an outlet or a way that I can express some control over something that has been a part of my life by being able to create something that others can use,” Ms Reid said.
She built the Sense Breast for a university assignment as part of her master’s program at ANU.
The prosthetic uses sensors to monitor movement, temperature, and pressure via an open-source computer board — similar to a chip — called a Raspberry Pi. It is estimated to cost about $200 to build.
“Women who’ve had breast surgery often have to do physiotherapy as part of the recovery process,” Ms Reid said.
“We can look at things like how much movement and what range of movement the person who’s wearing the prosthetic has.”
That data could help tailor and improve physiotherapy treatment for women recovering after breast surgery.
Kathy Reid built a ‘smart’ breast prosthesis for cancer survivors that can detect temperature, pressure, and movement. (ABC News: Aaron Hollett)
The masters student said she hoped the data collected would help women regain some control over their bodies and environment.
“You can’t control how advanced it is, you can’t control what’s going to happen to you,” Ms Reid said.
“Cancer is an experience [that] forces you to surrender and this was an area I had some agency over.”
It would not be the first wearable health technology borne out of lived experience.
Distinguished professor Genevieve Bell has spent 20 years in the technology sector exploring the links between culture and technology.
She has held senior positions at some of the biggest tech companies in the world and now leads the ANU’s 3A Institute.
She said it was common for advances in technology to come from personal challenges.
“The reality is we’ve used technology to augment ourselves and the ways people make sense of us for hundreds, if not thousands, of years,” Professor Bell said.
“Swords, glasses, hearing aids — this new data stuff feels in some way different, but for me, it’s awfully close to the same conversation we’ve always had.”
A shared resource
Ms Reid made the data and design available on an open-source website in the hope others would build on, and refine, her idea.
“My vision is that women all around the world can use this to experiment, to tinker, and it might even help them with their breast cancer journey as well,” she said.
“I didn’t really want to commercialise this, but I did really want people to benefit from what I’d created.
“I think if we had more women in technology, particularly older women — who are the cohort that is most often diagnosed with breast cancer — I suspect we would have seen something like this a little bit sooner.”