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Calgary’s Next Economy: Wave View Imaging using microwaves to detect breast cancer

Wave View Imaging CEO Jeremie Bourqui said what drives him are the personal experiences he’s had with young family and friends dying because of a late breast cancer diagnosis.

He’s part of a team of co-founders that include Dr. Elise Fear, professor in the Department of Computer Engineering at UCalgary – and AITF and iCORE Strategic Chair in Multi-modality Imaging and Sensing, and Kathleen McMahon, who has a Master’s in Biomedical Technology and serves as the company’s Director of Regulatory Affairs.

They’ve spearheaded the development of a microwave breast imaging device that’s portable and easy to use. That could offer a wider range of women greater accessibility to breast cancer screening.

He said mammography is typically recommended for women over 50, though screening is available in Alberta at 45 (in some cases 40). Bourqui said two of the cases close to him were women in their 30s where cancer went undetected.

“As we know, breast cancer has started to impact younger and younger women and those cancers tend to be more aggressive,” he said.

“With our device we are able to monitor breast health over a long period of time, starting at a very young age. You could start getting scanned with our device at an imaging clinic or at your doctor’s office at age 30 and see the progression of breast tissues over time.”

Bourqui said that way doctors can flag anything “worrisome” and any small lumps could be detected.

Fear said work on this technology began several years ago. With support from the university, they’ve built a company with exciting technology, she said.

“It just seems like we have the potential to improve the experience for patients and to bring a technology to market that fills the gap in the care pathway,” she said.

Safety and efficacy – especially with dense breast tissue

Mammography is based on X-ray technology, with involves the ionization of radiation.   With Wave View Imaging’s research and technology, they’re using simple microwaves. The microwave signals pass through the breast and a 2D image of the tissue properties is constructed.

The scan takes less than a minute and the image is displayed almost immediately.

One of the big advantages of this technology – aside from safety and duration of test – is that it appears to work better on dense-tissue breasts, said Bourqui. In some situations, women with dense breast tissue have to be scheduled for ultrasounds or MRIs.

“With our device, we could be an additional system there that can be very well integrated into the workflow,” he said.  

“Somebody that has a mammogram could have been measured with our device, which uses the same views as a mammography unit.”

Fear said that one thing that sets Wave View apart from other startups looking at microwave technology is the sophistication of their prototype machines. She said they’d been doing simple experimental testing until Bourqui arrived and brought with him a mechanical aptitude that elevated the project.

“We started building very sophisticated prototypes,” she said.

“That’s really enabled us to push the project forward in some really new and interesting ways.”

Thus far, their prototype has been tested with 33 patients. The patients are scanned three times to validate the results and collect more data for their system.

There are strict guidelines that govern medical imaging devices in Canada and the US, according to McMahon. Right now there are no predicated devices that dictate rules around microwave imaging.

“You need to go through specific pathways, regulatory pathways, and understand where on those pathways your device fits and which pathway to take,” she said.

“It’s a little bit nuanced. It takes a little bit of research.”

Raising funds, targeting the US market

While the trio has an exceptional engineering and biomedical tech background, the idea of raising equity and funding investment was foreign to them.

That’s one big reason they leaped at the opportunity to participate in the Alberta Catalyzer – Velocity program. Plus, they’re making invaluable connections.

“I have to say that the Velocity program was really great for connection as much as content,” said Bourqui.

Aside from funding, the team is hoping to deliver a device that’s inexpensive to produce. That, and they have to overcome some of the regulatory barriers to getting the device to market. They need to meet further safety standards so they can expand their testing to other locations.

With that, they will collect more data.

The eye is on the US market for commercialization through the Food and Drug Administration’s de novo process, which offers a pathway for novel medical devices. From there, they can have an approved device, expand testing, gather data, and then get approval from Health Canada. McMahon said that the process is more predictable in the US, and it does present a larger medical market.

In the end, it’s about helping more patients.

Bourqui said they’ve been scanning breast cancer patients for years. They’ve seen cancer.

“We know the technique works,” he said

“We just have to have a way to make it work really well. I think we found a way to make it work pretty well.”