Smartphone tapped as tech base for cancer diagnostic device

Today's smartphone may soon be tomorrow's mobile cancer detector given research on a high-resolution data imaging system that snaps onto a standard handset.

The device, D3, which stands for digital diffraction diagnosis, could be a cost-effective tool for detecting and diagnosing cancers, especially in remote areas where there is little to no access to high-end diagnostic equipment, according to a research report in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

D3 uses a smartphone camera and an imaging module, with a battery-powered LED light, to capture high-res data, the report says. The device is initially proving to work as accurately as current diagnostic tools, but at a mere fraction of the cost, about $1.80 per patient, the article's authors say.

"We believe the platform we have developed provides essential features at an extraordinary low cost," study co-author Cesar Castro, a doctor at the Massachusetts General Hospital Cancer Center and Center for Systems Biology, told Agence France-Presse.

As the study authors note, widespread adoption of smartphones boasting sensors and communication capabilities make the devices a good fit for point-of-care diagnosis, especially in telemedicine deployments.

Many similar devices are hitting the industry, with a focus on chronic conditions such as diabetes. For example, a new skin patch featuring a biosensor and communications system working off a smartphone may help diabetics better manage health while providing real-time glucose monitoring.

Smartphone use for molecular diagnostics, though, has proved more challenging, according to the research. That's why D3 presents an encouraging development.

Researchers used D3 to screen for precancerous or cancerous cells in cervical specimens and human papillomavirus DNA. The results, which were provided in less than an hour, showed agreement with gold-standard pathology testing, notes the study. The traditional diagnostic method often takes days or weeks at time.

The researchers note that further investigation on an expanded scope of cancers is necessary to verify the initial findings. Yet it's clear the team is excited by initial results.

"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," researcher Ralph Weissleder, director of the MGH Center for Systems Biology, told Industry Week.

For more information:
- read the research report
- read the Agence France-Presse report

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