Imagine a device so tiny it could be carried by hand into remote areas where women have no access to breast cancer detection.

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This article was published 20/11/2013 (2868 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

Imagine a device so tiny it could be carried by hand into remote areas where women have no access to breast cancer detection.

University of Manitoba Prof. Stephen Pistorius doesn't want to imagine that device -- he wants to make one.

Pistorius and his research team will receive a special $100,000 federal grant this morning for a feasibility study Pistorius hopes will lead to the development of a miniaturized breast cancer detector using microwaves rather than X-rays.

The money comes from a five-year, $225-million federal government fund designed to get projects off the ground that promise the likelihood of solutions to significant problems.

Working with Prof. Joe LoVetri and Prof. Can-Ming Hu, Pistorius said the research team hopes to develop both miniaturized detectors and cellphoned-sized monitoring devices to read the detectors' findings and the techniques necessary to use them.

The equipment needs to be moved easily to remote areas. "Unfortunately, many women don't have access to breast imaging," said Pistorius, who is a professor of radiology and, among other job titles, a senior research scientist with CancerCare Manitoba.

"We're using the technology one finds in cellphones," he said.

"Lots of people are working on microwave imaging," but the U of M project involves serious miniaturization.

"We need a large number of detectors.

"In the ideal situation, these would be sub-millimetre -- it would allow us to pack a large number around the breast," which would be held within a cup-like support and exposed to microwaves.

"At the moment, (the device) is closer to a briefcase than a cellphone," he said.

Pistorius emphasized the miniature devices would be used in remote areas in which more familiar medical technology isn't available. "We're not suggesting we would replace mammography," Pistorius said.

Of course, the Harper government wants to see research have practical marketplace applications.

"The government is really supporting bold ideas with (potential) big impact. The idea would be to turn it into something that would be a product," Pistorius said.

Meanwhile, Grand Challenges Canada has a second $100,000 grant this morning for U of M medical microbiology Prof. Julie Lajoie's research into developing a system to improve the immunity of women at high risk of HIV infection.

nick.martin@freepress.mb.ca