Smartphone can SMS, check email, and now detect cancer

Transforming smartphones into medical marvels is a hot trend in scientific research. And now, a new smartphone-controlled device could help doctors diagnose cancer in a simple, in-office procedure - with results in a matter of minutes.

Researchers at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston have developed a new system that can detect tumors by analyzing a tiny sampling of cells (a speck of tissue), sparing patients from the larger biopsies currently used.

Announced in the journal Science on February 23, the handheld device, operated by a smartphone app, has at its core a micro nuclear magnetic resonance chip, or a simplified version of the technology found in magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scanners. "It works by using magnetic nanoparticles to measure protein levels, looking for specific markers that indicate the presence of cancer," reports New Scientist magazine on the technology.

In a trial of 50 patients, researchers reported that the device correctly detected cancer in 96 percent of the cases. Even better, a second trial of 20 patients scored total accuracy ( New Scientist says current methods for detecting cancer are only 84 percent accurate). Plus the results are fast compared to waiting days for a biopsy result, which can be agonizing for patients.

Researchers say don't expect to see these smartphone apps in doctors' offices anytime soon. They report some problems with the fact that protein markers aren't always present in cancer cells, which could result in misdiagnoses, so more work needs to be done.

Last week, health and science website LiveScience reported on another innovation in smartphone technology: UCLA engineer Aydogan Ozcan is devising a way to transform an ordinary smartphone into a device that can analyze blood cells for malaria, test water for parasites, or even monitor the health of HIV patients by counting T-cells in their blood.

Also, US-based mobile health start-up Mobisante is devising a smartphone ultrasound imaging system as a lower-cost alternative to expensive ultrasound systems, which can ring up tens of thousands of euros. The system is portable, meaning ultrasound technology could reach remote areas where bulkier equipment is not available. 

Read more about the cancer-detecting smartphone app: http://stm.sciencemag.org/content/3/71/71ra16

 

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