Will 3-D Thermal Imaging Revolutionize Breast Cancer Detection?
Paul Angott is an idea man. He holds 40 patents on products such as a clock thermostat, a wireless doorbell, and a laser-guided, unmanned mower for football fields and golf courses. Throughout his career, he’s launched five companies and raised more than $10 million for his various entrepreneurial endeavors, sold more than $100 million worth of his products, and taken 30 of these products from concept to market. Now, with a new company based in Bloomfield Hills, MI called Angott Medical Products, he wants to revolutionize testing for breast cancer.
“Our goal is to save 10,000 lives per year,” Angott says. “If you detect breast cancer at stage one and it hasn’t spread to the lymph nodes, the survival rate is about 98 percent. Our test, which is an adjunct clinical breast exam, can detect a tumor at one centimeter in diameter 95 percent of the time.”
Angott’s prototype device tests for breast cancer using 3-D advanced thermal profiling. During the test, a woman lies with her arms stretched over her head on a specially designed exam table. The woman puts her hands on a cold bar that is part of the table, bringing the her body temperature down, while a camera snaps a series of images of her chest. That’s where the thermal imaging kicks in: blood vessels that feed a tumor won’t cool down with the rest of the body, making them stand out on a thermal image. The only portion of the test that touches a woman’s body is the cold bar.
The test captures data digitally and then uses special software to interpret the results, which Angott says eliminates the need for highly trained specialists. The test also works with women of any age woman and with breasts of any density—a difference from mammograms, which don’t work as well on dense breasts, he notes.
Angott emphasizes that his test is not meant to replace mammograms, but augment clinical breast exams. He adds that the device doesn’t cause any pain or emit radiation, is non-invasive, and doesn’t cost a lot to administer—all of which are common criticisms of the industry-standard mammogram. Angott plans to sell his device for $15,000, with $15 per test going to the doctor that administers it.
He became interested in the field of breast cancer detection after watching his mother struggle with the disease. She had two mastectomies 13 years apart, but finally succumbed to the disease 20 years ago. “Watching the physical and emotional agony she went through was devastating,” he says. “She was angry with God. It’s a devastating disease, and I think having breast cancer is one of women’s biggest fears. So I figured I’d just try to solve the problem.”
With no medical background, Angott says he spent about 10,000 hours researching breast cancer. Eventually, he hit upon the idea of using thermography as a means of detection. (Thermography, he admits, was once commonly used in the era before mammograms before falling out of favor with most doctors, who felt it generated too many false positive readings.)
He researched thermal imaging clinics around the world and stumbled upon a method developed by a doctor who took more than a million images over 40 years and studied the what occurred in thermal images after a patient put her hand in cold water. The “cold challenge” causes a fight or flight response in the body that makes blood vessels constrict and the body’s temperature drop. Blood vessels that form around tumors don’t constrict during a cold-temperature challenge, Angott adds, so the thermal imaging detects the heat they give off. He took those ideas and adapted them when building his device.
Angott, who won TechTown’s 2011 Entrepreneur of the Year award, estimates he’ll need between $5 million and $6 million to get his prototype to market. He’s already invested $1 million of his own money and picked up an additional $1 million from angel investors. Ann Arbor SPARK and the federal government have also invested in his company. The reaction from the medical establishment so far has been good, he says, with 63 percent of the 240 doctors he polled expressing interest in offering their patients his test. Now, he’s seeking more angel investors to raise the money needed to get his product to market.
“In 480 B.C., women used to put mud on their breasts to see how it dried,” Angott says, noting that a breast that contains a tumor is a few degrees warmer to the touch than a breast without a tumor. “This is technology that has been used for a long time because it works.”