A new mobile medical device could dramatically reduce the cost to screen vulnerable populations for cancer.
Researchers at Michigan State University are developing the device--Gene-Z--for use with iPod Touch or Android tablets. It analyzes micro-RNAs, single-stranded molecules that affect gene activity, to determine any early changes that might signal incipient cancer.
The project is aimed at producing a low-cost, easily distributable device for use in developing nations, but ostensibly could be used to screen low-income, rural and other at-risk populations in the U.S.
"Gene-Z has the capability to screen for established markers of cancer at extremely low costs in the field," device creator and MSU engineering professor Syed Hashsham said at a recent National Institutes of Health conference in Bethesda, Md. "Because it is a hand-held device operated by a battery and chargeable by solar energy, it is extremely useful in limited-resource settings."
And cancer screenings may be only the beginning, according to MSU officials. Developers are working on ways to use the device for cases of tuberculosis, HIV and antibiotic resistance in patients.
One possible snag: Gene-Z isn't on the market yet. Hashsham says he's working with MSU's Institute of International Health to test it in the field, but there's no timeline so far for commercial availability.