A Swiss start-up innovates to improve the effectiveness of  breast cancer treatments

26 June 2024 | Comment(s) |

Christelle Travelletti

HeroSupport is a Swiss start-up created in 2022 with the aim of promoting the prone position for breast cancer patients during radiotherapy treatments. Its founder, medical physicist Giovanna Dipasquale, explains below how her innovation can improve not only the effectiveness of treatment but also the physical and psychological comfort of patients. The CEO of HeroSupport also talks about her participation in the fourth edition of Tech4Eva, our accelerator for start-ups specialising in women's health.

Groupe Mutuel: Can you tell us how your idea came about?

Giovanna Dipasquale: I worked for a long time at the cantonal hospital (HUG) in Geneva. That's where I became familiar with the prone position. In the case of treatment for breast cancer, for example, the patient lies flat on her stomach on a table with a space where the breasts can be placed and allowed to expand.

For radiotherapy treatment to work well, we need to have a stable position that we can reproduce precisely every day. Unfortunately, this position alone did not allow us to position the patient's breast in the same way every day, which is why we now treat patients on their backs, with flattened breasts.

However, I said to myself that if one day I had breast cancer, I'd really like to be able to use the “prone” position because it's the best. Thanks to the prone position, you move away from other organs in the body that you want to spare, such as the lungs or the heart. You have better access to the tumour, and therefore radiotherapy is more effective.

What have you developed and what does your innovation consist of?

My innovation consists of a customised shell for each breast cancer patient that can be placed in the space provided for the breast on the examination table, when the patient is lying flat on her stomach.

To do this, I first developed a table with transparent elements on which the patient lies down in order to carry out a 3D scan of her body. From this image, we create a unique shell based on the size and shape of the patient's breast that we can place on the radiotherapy table.

As a result, it is no longer the patient who has to find the exact position of her breast, but the table that adapts to the patient. In 2021, we carried out a clinical study on 20 patients, all of whom were delighted, as were the technicians, because the device is so quick to put in place.

Our device, which is also compatible with MRI, could be used to image in the treatment position to better delineate the target. For premature tumours, we could image with MRI for optimal definition and precise treatment before surgery, enabling doctors to better adjust future treatments after analysing the diseased area that has been removed.


How does this solution change the lives of people with breast cancer?

  • It’s more effective. Our main aim is to use this innovation for radiotherapy treatments and to reduce the number of sessions. We could go from the current 15-25 sessions down to just five. The patient can carry out her treatments over a week and be finished. Our solution offers greater precision and faster treatment of tumours.
  • Lower costs. Beyond the efficiency aspect, there are many other advantages to our solution. Obviously, it greatly reduces the economic cost of treatment, both for hospitals and for insurance companies.
  • Reduced risk of secondary cancers or dermatitis. It should be borne in mind that radiotherapy can induce secondary cancers over time. By moving away from other organs, in particular the lungs and heart, the risk of a radiation-induced tumour of the lungs, for example, is reduced by 70%. We are currently in the process of further improving our solution to enable the entire breast to be treated. From then on, we will also be able to reduce the risk of dermatitis (skin burns), which is very common following radiotherapy treatment.
  • Personalised care. Another benefit is the physical and psychological comfort of the patient. We create a unique object, a customised shell for each breast. Therefore, the treatment is customised and that reassures the patient.
  • Greater comfort and peace of mind. And finally, it preserves a woman's privacy. Several patients told me during the clinical study that it was unpleasant to find themselves with their breasts visible in front of several men. The shell gives you more dignity, because some patients have breasts that have been damaged by treatment. The psychological aspect of the patient also plays a part in the success of the treatment. If she feels comfortable and confident, it's better for everyone.

What stage of development are you at?

We set up HeroSupport in 2022, after completing our clinical study. Today, we're at the fund-raising stage, hoping to be able to sell our innovation in Switzerland and Europe by 2025. We have several partnerships with Swiss and foreign hospitals that are already very interested in our product.

Why take part in Tech4Eva this year?

I wanted to take part in Tech4Eva because the mentors are incredible and a real source of inspiration. I also really liked that Groupe Mutuel was part of Tech4Eva because we obviously need an insurance company partner when it comes to health.

I was also pleasantly surprised by the team of extraordinary women who work at Tech4Eva. It left me speechless! And for me, as a woman CEO, it's a chance to talk to other women CEOs. There aren't many of us, so it creates a very rich exchange between us. When we're looking for funding, we know that 95% of our decision-makers will be men. And we've come to sell them a project aimed at women. Will it appeal to them? Will they understand? That's what it's all about.

When it comes to women's health, do you think there's still a long way to go?

Yes, of course! But society has come a long way in recent years. We've gradually begun to understand that women and men don't have the same symptoms. Already, on a hormonal level, everything is different. Therefore, the medical world really needs to make an effort to adapt treatment for women.

And we still need to improve the way men listen to women. We can no longer have male doctors telling women that "it's all in their heads". I've already been told this type of story, where a doctor tells a patient that she's suffering from depression even though she has metastases. When you put it like that, it's hard to believe, but it does happen. There's still a lot to be done!

Christelle Travelletti

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Christelle Travelletti

Cheffe de projet Communication

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