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Natalia Nikolova

Natalia Nikolova

Canada Research Chair in High-Frequency Electromagnetics

Tier 2: 2008-03-01, Renewed: 2013-03-01


Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering | Computational Electormagnetics Lab | Canada Research Chair Profile 

Research involves

Applying microwave imaging to biomedical diagnostics and non-destructive testing, via computer algorithms for high-frequency electromagnetic system analysis and simulation, as well as computer-aided design methods for antennas, and microwave devices and systems. Exploring the theory of the interaction of the electromagnetic field with plasma and its application in wireless communications. 

Research relevance

Investigating microwave-imaging techniques and tools to better, and non-invasively, detect tumours.

Microwave Imaging: A Safe, Simple, and Less Expensive Method to Detect Tumours

Imagine a simpler, safer and less expensive diagnostic tool than mammography to detect cancerous breast tumours? Microwave imaging may be just the ticket, but there is work to be done. 

Microwave imaging is cheaper and its hardware can be easily installed in a doctor’s office. It’s no more dangerous than a cell phone and does not require the expensive shielding that is needed with X-rays.

An evolving field, and still in its infancy in Canada with no prototype hardware yet developed to test on patients, Dr. Natalia Nikolova, Canada Research Chair in High-Frequency Electromagnetics, wants to change that. Ideally, she would like to make microwave imaging reliable enough to be developed first for clinical tests, then for commercial applications.

In partnership with McMaster’s School of Biomedical Engineering, Nikolova is putting together hardware to test “ on phantoms”—manufactured objects that mimic parts of the human body, such as the breast—and put objects that simulate tumours in the “phantoms” to perform measurements. 

Nikolova is using a vector network analyzer—a microwave measurement tool that measures 16 signals simultaneously—to develop microwave-imaging technology which will allow for regular, frequent, and harmless screening of the female population at risk.

As a preliminary screening tool, the imaging technology could be used to screen all women over 40 years of age, every six months in their family doctor’s office. Then, if the result is positive or suspicious, a woman could then have a mammogram or magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) procedure.

Microwaves are a non-ionizing form of electromagnetic waves that interact with tissues according to water content. Tumours have a higher water content compared to normal tissues. And just as waves scatter when they hit a ship, tumours back-scatter microwaves. By looking into the back-scatter, Nikolova will be able to tell, more or less, what it scattered from, how big it is, its shape and the parameters.

Nikolova says the tool could save additional lives, since studies show some particularly aggressive types of tumours may grow from one millimetre to a dangerous size of one centimetre and a half in less than six months. For these cases especially, the current (mammography) screening every one or two years is inefficient. With breast cancer, the chance of a woman surviving is greater than 95 per cent if the tumour is less than one centimetre in size.

Nikolova’s research in microwave-imaging will improve the effectiveness and availability of non-invasive methods for detecting tumours.