Saturday, September 22, 2007

This might revolutionize cancer treatment

One of the big issues with cancer treatment is finding the cancer in time to do something about it. At ScienceDaily there is some news which might help in this regard.

New Technology For Cancer Screening Listens For The Signs Of Cancer

Cancer-sensing devices built as cheaply and efficiently as wristwatches -- using many of the same operating principles -- could change the way clinicians detect, treat and monitor cancer in patients.

A device which can be mass-produced cheaply sounds like good news indeed. This would mean that it could be widely distributed to family doctors (presuming it's easy to use), and save people hospital visits for a diagnosis.

Researchers from the Georgia Institute of Technology have created an acoustic sensor that can report the presence of small amounts of mesothelin, a molecule associated with a number of cancers including mesothelioma, as they attach to the sensor's surface.

I am sure this will result in a number of false positives, but I'd rather have false positives, than diagnoses that come to late to do anything about it.

Of course, it's important to note that not all types of cancers would be possible to detect this way.

According to the researchers, the study is a proof of principle, demonstrating a technique that might work for the detection of nearly any biomarker -- a collective term for a molecular signal that denotes the presence of disease.

"It is one thing to be able to identify biomarkers for a disease, but it is another to be able to find them in blood quickly and easily at very low concentrations," said Anthony Dickherber, a graduate student in the School of Electrical and Computer Engineering at Georgia Tech. "We envision that, one day, doctors can use an array of our sensors as a sort of laboratory in their office, where they could use a quick blood sample to detect or monitor the signs of cancer."

I hope that the proof of principle can be reproduced, and that this device will become available as fast as possible. If they are right, I can't see any downside to the device. However, it would require the device to be at least as reliable in detecting cancers than current methods (though more false positives would be acceptable) for it to become a reliable first step of diagnosis.

A good example of a field, engineering, bringing its expertise to another field, medicine, to help solve a problem. Hopefully it will fulfill its potential.

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