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Keysight Equipment Plays an Instrumental Role in Prototype Alternative Breast Imaging Technique

In her pursuit of a patient-friendly, inexpensive, and comfortable approach to breast imaging, Dr. Elise Fear is using Keysight’s PNA-X microwave network analyzer and ADS software to develop a new low-power radar diagnostic tool. Dr. Fear, an associate professor of electrical engineering in the Schulich School of Engineering at the University of Calgary, is performing research with this technology to prototype a new non-invasive solution for the detection of breast tumors.

The new technique is termed Tissue Sensing Adaptive Radar (TSAR). TSAR involves illuminating the breast with a low-power pulse of radio frequency (RF) energy and then focusing the resulting reflections to create a 3D image. TSAR uses the differences in electromagnetic properties of healthy and diseased tissues to form diagnostic images.

The prototype test setup is a sophisticated mechanism that includes a laser, camera, and an ultra-wide band antenna. The excellent sensitivity of the Keysight PNA-X makes it the perfect choice for the task of signal detection in this application. “We appreciate the features the Keysight PNA-X analyzer provides, especially its excellent dynamic range and source stability,” states Dr. Fear.

With the current prototype, a woman lies down on a table and places one breast into a bath of canola oil. A specially designed sensor (antenna) is used to illuminate the breast with short pulses of microwaves, and to detect the resulting reflections. Canola oil was chosen because it cuts down on reflection from the skin and allows for a better image. The antenna moves around the breast and also up and down, so researchers can scan the entire breast. Dr. Fear elaborates, “We record the reflections, estimate the surface of the breast, and then look inside the breast to find reflections from tumors.”

The work being done by Dr. Fear’s research team is relatively unique. “What differentiates our work is that we have a working prototype that allows us to conduct human testing. We are 1 of only 3 groups that I am aware of that has this capability,” states Dr. Fear. The team also works with local medical professionals to perform patient studies and to compare their results with those of other traditional imaging methods such as mammography and magnetic resonance imaging scans.

Dr. Fear and her team have had a close working relationship with Keysight during the TSAR project. “The close collaboration we’ve had with Keysight has been fantastic,” reflects Dr. Fear. “Keysight application engineers came to Calgary to provide applications expertise and valuable suggestions. In addition, some of our university students spent time at the Keysight factory where they had access to a wealth of resources and expertise. We couldn’t find that anywhere else in the world.”

This collaboration with the University of Calgary was made possible in part via two Applications and Core Technology University Relations (ACT-UR) grants from Keysight. Roger Stancliff (Chief Technology Officer, Component Test Division) highlights why Keysight wanted to work with Dr. Fear. “Keysight’s Component Test Division (CTD) has been applying the ACT-UR program grants to expand Network Analyzers to new measurement applications. We chose to work with the University of Calgary because of their long legacy of excellence in microwave technology and their entrepreneurial approach to research. I met Dr Fear when she was just starting at Calgary and became quite intrigued with her work. Our collaboration has been excellent and has had many benefits for both Keysight and the University of Calgary.”

While several practical problems still need to be solved in order to produce a prototype system ready for clinical testing, the benefits of the TSAR method are numerous. There is no radiation involved, the test is more comfortable for the patient, it produces a 3D image (mammograms are 2D), and the costs are lower than traditional tests such as MRI. Dr. Fear predicts that “the TSAR methodology may provide additional information further down the diagnostic chain and may reduce the number of biopsies required.”

Meanwhile, Dr. Fear and the University of Calgary team continue to work with Keysight and the Keysight test equipment and design software. “We really push the limits of the Keysight PNA-X, and when we needed online advice, the Keysight technical forums are very good with quick and accurate responses.” The research team also sees a future need for a lightweight portable Vector Network Analyzer (VNA), such as the Keysight FieldFox, which holds promise for this application.

Looking ahead, there may be other possible applications for this technology including bone and joint imaging, and also for monitoring certain industrial processes.

Related Links on University of Calgary:

  • Additional information about Dr. Fear’s research:




Related Links on Keysight Technologies:

  • Keysight PNA-X Microwave Network Analyzers - The Keysight PNA-X network analyzer is the world´s most integrated and flexible single-connection microwave test engine for measuring active devices such as amplifiers, mixers, and frequency converters. You can choose from five frequency models to meet your specific device test needs: 13.5, 26.5, 43.5, 50, and 67 GHz. The PNA-X provides unrivaled configurability with a built-in second source, combiner, and internal signal-routing switches.
  • Keysight Advanced Design System - Advanced Design System is the leading electronic design automation software for RF, microwave, and high speed digital applications. ADS pioneers the most innovative and commercially successful technologies, such as X-parameters and 3D EM simulators, used by leading companies in the wireless communication & networking and aerospace & defense industries. For WiMAX™, LTE, multi-gigabit per second data links, radar, & satellite applications, ADS provides full, standards-based design and verification with Wireless Libraries and circuit-system-EM co-simulation in an integrated platform.
  • Keysight FieldFox RF Analyzers - The Keysight FieldFox is an integrated handheld RF network analyzer than comes in a rugged, compact, lightweight and weather-resistant package.
  • Keysight FieldFox in the Classroom – A two-page FieldFox flyer.