Smartphone device might help doctors diagnose cancer

Medical experts using a device that attaches to a smartphone could more accurately and economically diagnose cancer, especially in remote areas, according to research described in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, a peer-reviewed U.S. journal.

By applying a process called digital diffraction diagnosis (D3), researchers describe using microbeads to generate unique diffraction patterns that can be acquired by smartphones and processed by a remote server.

"We applied the D3 platform to screen for precancerous or cancerous cells in cervical specimens and to detect human papillomavirus (HPV) DNA," researchers said in an abstract. "The D3 assay generated readouts within 45 min and showed excellent agreement with gold-standard pathology or HPV testing, respectively. This approach could have favorable global health applications where medical access is limited or when pathology bottlenecks challenge prompt diagnostic readouts."

Although the accuracy appears to be as good as current tests, the price tag is considerably smaller: $1.80 per patient, according to an IndustryWeek article.

The D3 system features an imaging module with a battery-powered LED light clipped onto a standard smartphone that records high-resolution imaging data with its camera, the article states.

The researchers say that because the system is compact, easy to operate and readily integrated with the standard portable smartphone, their approach could enable medical diagnostics in geographically and/or socioeconomically limited settings with pathology bottlenecks.

More research is needed on a larger number of cancers to verify the preliminary findings of the new device, but IndustryWeek quoted researcher Ralph Weissleder, director of the Massachusetts General Hospital Center for Systems Biology, as saying that he expects the device to break down many of the barriers that exist in cancer diagnosis, particularly in remote or impoverished areas.

"By taking advantage of the increased penetration of mobile phone technology worldwide, the system should allow the prompt triaging of suspicious or high-risk cases that could help to offset delays caused by limited pathology services in those regions and reduce the need for patients to return for follow-up care, which is often challenging for them," he said.

For more:
- see the IndustryWeek article
- see this abstract

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