Ten years ago, if you had a cell phone with a built-in camera, you were carrying some pretty exciting technology. Since then, smart phone technology has turned the phone into a GPS receiver, Wi-Fi hotspot, and even cancer tester. Not quite, but researchers at Massachusetts General Hospital are a step closer with the development of their new portable tissue analysis device. With a price tag around $200, this cancer detector could realistically be cheaper than the newest phone, and drastically smaller than the equipment used in the current standard immunohistochemical technique of diagnosis.
Relying on nuclear magnetic resonance technology (called NMR or MRI), cancers are often tested for by bathing the tissue sample in a magnetic field and studying the behavior of atoms in the sample when they are excited by radio waves. MRI technology typically relies on large, powerful magnets, but the tissue sample size needed for a cancer diagnosis is very small, and thus does not need the full power of most MRI machines. In fact, this new portable device relies on a micro-NMR chip that relies on magnets that are only 5% as powerful as the typical 10 tesla full-body MRI.
If you have ever had an MRI, or seen the massive, expensive machine used to perform one, then you’ll understand how revolutionary a portable machine like this could potentially be. But, does it really work? Although researchers are still far from large-scale testing, after its first clinical trial, the device was able to produce 96 percent accurate results when testing for malignant cancer. Current techniques produce roughly 84 percent accurate results, after about three days to process the information from the test. In addition to being portable and very accurate, this new device rapidly processes data for results in under an hour.
Researchers are optimistic that the availability of real-time data that could be produced by a device like this will enable more advanced, individualized treatment programs for patients. In addition to cancer detection, the developers of this new device believe that they can design specific antibodies to use for detection of other diseases as well. For example, Jered Haun of Harvard Medical School explained that there is already a plan to bring this technology to Africa, where physicians in the field can use its portability and smartphone integration to rapidly and accurately diagnose tuberculosis.
For more information, see the TechNewsDaily article, Researchers Use Smartphones to Detect Cancers.
Written by: Walter Palmer