Nigerian female engineer invents smart bra to detect breast cancer

A Nigerian robotics and embedded systems engineer, Kemisola Bolarinwa, has invented a smart bra capable of diagnosing early-stage breast cancer before symptoms develop. 

Bolarinwa reportedly made the invention known to the world in February 2022 by designing the prototype of the smart bra.

The invention was spurred by the death of her loved one in 2017. 

According to her, the death of her aunt made her pay more attention to breast cancer because it was just something she heard on the TV or radio before.

The founder and chief executive officer of Nextwear Technologies, the first wearable technology startup in Nigeria, said she was moved to invent the smart bra, after frequent visits to the hospital where her aunt was before she died.

She said seeing other women battling breast cancer was painful, and her efforts to intensify research into the invention were increased.

Bolarinwa disclosed that her invention was recognised by BBC Africa, adding that she spent a year and a half of intense research, before the smart bra came up in 2019.

How the smart bra works

To detect lumps in the breast, the smart bra repurposes ultrasound technology into a small form factor, with the initiative to shrink down an ultrasound machine to a portable size where it becomes wearable. 

According to Bolarinwa, this was possible with nanotechnology — a branch of science, technology, and engineering that deals with the manufacturing of tech in small sizes. 

For more context, the smart bra uses an ultrasound system called the Doppler that bounces high-frequency sound waves off the body to detect blood clots, heart defects, and blocked arteries. 

This works differently from ultrasound machines that use sound waves to generate images of the scanned area. 

More work on the smart bra

After years of research and developing a prototype, she revealed there is still a lot of work to be achieved on the smart bra before it can be commercialised. 

Bolarinwa said the smart bra still needs further development and extensive clinical trials and gave a time frame between the end of 2022 and the beginning of 2023 for mass production.

Aside from being an inventor, Vanguard reports that Bolarinwa is also a strong advocate for getting more women interested in STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics), something she was passionate about growing up. 

Bolarinwa called for more work on research for inventions to be effective in solving the problems they are designed for while lamenting there are not adequate research organisations to help.

She said, “In four months, a fintech platform will be built and be ready for the market. This is one of the reasons why few people play in the hardware or deep tech side of technology in Africa. There aren’t enough research institutes.” 

Who she is

Bolarinwa holds a Bachelor of Engineering in Electrical, Electronics, and Communications Engineering from the University of Ado-Ekiti (now Ekiti State University).

She has more than 10 years of experience exceptional tech skills and strong problem-solving skills, and is passionate about solving complex problems and staying up-to-date with the latest technologies. 

Bolarinwa is an inventor, innovator, entrepreneur, and president of the Women In ICT Foundation, a nonprofit organisation that focuses on providing technology education, leadership, and businesses for women and young girls to resolve problems of the under-representation of women in leadership, policy-making, and maths-intensive fields of science and technology.

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