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New technology diagnoses cancer via smartphone

The Micro-NMR detects cancer in 60 minutes. It can then be plugged into a smartphone to analyze the data on the spot.

Traditional testing for cancer requires large samples of tissue, days of anxious waiting and the risk that the tissue will decay on the way to the lab. During the past decade, however, the Center of Systems Biology at Massachusetts General Hospital has been working on a device that requires only a small sample of potentially cancerous cells, analyzes them right there in the doctor's office and displays the results on a smartphone within an hour.  A doctor then reads the results and diagnoses the patient on the spot. 

How does this work?  A small, approximately 4,000-cell sample is taken using a minimally invasive fine needle.  Then the small, coffee-mug sized micro-NMR (nuclear magnetic resonance) device uses technology similar to that of an MRI to test the sample for cancer marker proteins.  In clinical trials at Massachusetts General Hospital, this method had an accuracy rate of 96% in diagnosing various types of cancer.  Within an hour, the micro-NMR is finished and can be hooked up to a smartphone to transfer the data it acquired.

The benefits: As opposed to conventional pathology which requires an invasive biopsy and large tissue sample, the micro-NMR requires no risky surgery and only a small sampling of cells taken using a needle.  Typically, after the biopsy, the sample is usually transported to an outside lab to be tested.  In the meantime, the sample decays and, therefore, the resulting data is rendered less accurate—not to mention the horrible anxiety the patient has to face waiting several days for the results.  But since the micro-NMR only takes an hour to test the sample, which can be analyzed immediately on a smartphone, there's minimal cell decay and minimal nail-biting anxiety involved.

Smartphones continue to make their way into the health care sector, facilitating and improving every aspect of it.  The micro-NMR is a great example of how smartphones are not only making medicine more efficient but also more accurate.


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Daniel Rechitsky, 2011-03-16 (Update: 2012-05-26)