NASA's Space-Age Cancer Bra Lives On

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In the 1970s, NASA had more than Mars on its mind. NASA Administrator James C. Fletcher (and friends) filed a patent for a brassiere that could detect breast cancer in 1976. For some reason, NASA's massive bra project never made it to the marketplace, but it's inspired a new generation of medical bra-makers to try again. Click through for a schematic of the NASA bra, and details on the next generation of cancer-detecting brassieres. The Fletcher bra works by flooding "cooling panels" with liquid. Then it looks for variations in the breast's skin temperature that could indicate an early malignancy. Fletcher's team claimed it would be "comfortable," but the cumbersome design includes:

a pair of body compliant liquid-perfused cooling panels lying adjacent and held within the inner contour of each cup... a pump connected by flexible tubing to the liquid-perfused cooling panels, a solenoid valve for controlling the flow of cooling liquid between the pump and the refrigerator-heat exchanger and heaters, a refrigerator-heat exchanger for cooling the cooling fluid, a heater for heating the cooling fluid, a cooling fluid reservoir tank, a temperature sensor located in the reservoir tank for sensing the cooling fluid temperature and a temperature readout and controller circuit for controlling the solenoid valve and heater circuit.

Maybe not something you'd wear to a party. Here's a diagram from the patent. (Click to enlarge.)


Fletcher's dream isn't dead. In 2002, researchers at De Montfort University in Leicester, England came up with a bra that uses tiny electrical currents to find tumors, which are denser than regular tissue. But clinical trials in China were supposed to lead to that device becoming available by 2005, which obviously hasn't happened. [FreePatentsOnline