Health

Marina Sánchez, the student who works on a smart bra with sensors to detect cancer

She is not a typical medical student. In fact, Marina Sánchez, who will start the 6th year at the Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona next September, admits that she studies with the notes of her classmates, she rarely visits the classroom although she does attend seminars and internships. But what she really dedicates her time to is developing her project, the Ubra technological bras to prevent breast cancer, an initiative for which she has won the Explorer award from Banco Santander and the Isabel P. Trabal Innovative Ideas award from the Caja de Ingenieros Foundation.

Sánchez Calleja (Montalbo, Cuenca, 1993) has an intense curriculum for his age, with a degree in Speech Therapy from the University of Valencia, three master’s degrees (psychology, language communication disorders and neurolinguistic programming), and a Psychology thesis in the unfinished Ramon Llull, on pathological identity and the influence of internal and external language on illness.


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“Many women don’t get mammograms because the test hurts, they forget or they don’t want radiation”

From Montalbo, a town of 600 inhabitants in Castilla la Mancha, he jumped to Valencia at the age of 18 and has not missed a single train. Ella “ella I came to Barcelona to play for the women’s water polo team and to take a master’s degree in communication and language disorders (UAB-URL). I continued with the doctorate in Psychology and then Medicine”. During the pandemic, her teacher, Santiago Ramón y Cajal, offered her a scholarship to research covid. And there she was. She now she also works part-time at a start-up of clinical trials, a job that he likes and that gives him a living and pays for his second career.

Communication is his forte. He describes the image of the tumor that he observes under the microscope as “cells of a baroque work, all mixed, with overload of expression, chaos compared to the ordered cells of a healthy person that seem harmonic, balanced, as if they were works of art. Renaissance”.

One in eight women may develop breast cancer, according to the US National Cancer Institute. If it is diagnosed in the early stages, the chances of success in treatment increase by 85%, so early detection is essential.


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AGENCIES

False color image of breast cancer on a mammogram

“Many women do not go to prevention checkups because the test hurts, they forget or reject radiation,” says Sánchez. “I have seen women my age with very advanced cancers and that must be avoided. As technology advances it will get easier and easier.”

In Ubra –which he created together with Sara Peláez– he is designing a bra, an everyday garment, in whose cups they will incorporate imperceptible sensors that will monitor various variables such as temperature and shape, as well as the pressure that the breast acquires in its different ovulation phases and menstruation. The information will be sent by bluetooth to a program that will analyze it”. If a suspicious mass of “baroque” cells is detected, the woman will be informed through a mobile app so that she can schedule an appointment with a specialist. She hopes to be able to create an app that takes care of people through their language and the support it will offer if its users become patients. “If creativity were encouraged, the university would be an incubator for projects.”

The team of researchers is working against the clock, despite their limited resources

The project is in the development phase and the new bra has not yet been patented (there are other similar ones on the international market), but the team of researchers is working against the clock, despite their limited resources. Ubra is made up of ten young people from engineering, medicine, business, mathematics and communication. They receive advice from the professor of pathological anatomy Ramón y Cajal, the electronics and telecommunications engineer, Andreu Veà i Baró, the specialist in digital health, Mercè Bonjorn, and the breast oncologist and professor Eduard Escrich.


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Joseph Fita

A woman undergoing a mammogram

Ubra won the Explorer 2022 entrepreneurship promotion programme, an initiative by Banco Santander to promote projects through agreements with universities –in this case, UPF– that provide training and advice.

She wants to create a school for women with a holistic view of health (physical, emotional, spiritual) and where they are taught to change the use of words like cancer, which often appropriates a person’s identity. The energy displayed during these years has led her to a certainty: “I know that I have come to improve people’s health”.

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