Smartphone-based diagnosis tool promises to speed cancer detection

A new smartphone-based mHealth device promises to slash today's cancer diagnosis to an hour, decrease a patient's anxiety level regarding potential illness and drive faster treatment, especially in remote regions across the world.

A D3 system (digital diffraction diagnosis) designed by Ralph Weissleder, Ph.D., director of the Center for Systems Biology at Massachusetts General Hospital, and colleague Hakho Lee, Ph.D., allows physicians to assess and analyze cells from a blood sample, biopsy or Pap smear via the phone's high-resolution imaging technology using a small slide that is clipped onto the smartphone, according to an announcement.

A pilot program reveals the device performs as well as current traditional pathology processes.

Such technology could help millions in countries such as Africa, where patients often are tested for cancer and other illnesses but don't have necessary transportation to return to clinics or healthcare facilities to determine test outcomes and begin treatment in a timely fashion, Weissleder said. The lag is an issue in the U.S. as well, as it often takes a week for biopsy results, which can lead to greater patient anxiety levels.

The device pilot and progress comes months after a research report detailed D3 technology innovation in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. That report determined that widespread adoption of smartphones boasting sensors and communication capabilities make the devices a good fit for point-of-care diagnosis, especially in telemedicine deployments.

The Massachusetts General Hospital D3 device should lead to more innovative disease assessment approaches, according to Weissleder, who said that a new, large clinical trial is scheduled for further device evaluation in Africa with expanded focus on tracking disease outbreaks such as TB or avian flu.

"The smartphone picks up the shining of the antibodies when the photo is snapped," Weissleder said. "And researchers can use this signal to diagnosis a patient with cancer. I am sure we will be able to detect other diseases too. It's very similar to what a pathologist would actually do."

Such mHealth devices, Weissleder said, are driving a sea change in healthcare and treatment.

"The next big push will be healthcare applications, and we are excited to lead the way," he said.

For more information:
- read the announcement