Lung cancer is the most common cause of cancer-related deaths in both men and women, but caught early it can be effectively treated. Researchers at the University at Buffalo are now embarking on a project to detect early stages of the disease using an implant and a wrist tracker.
It's actually a system of three elements: an implant that lives just under the skin and reacts to biomarkers in the blood; a wearable that sits above and shines a laser at the implant to detect those changes; and a smartphone/computer that receives the information.
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Josep Jornet, assistant professor of electrical engineering at UB tells us that ideally you'd use nanoparticles in the blood, but it's just not practical. "Once you have them in your blood, something is eventually going to filter them. And the FDA is not a fan of particles going around the body."
The project will last three years, at the end of which the team will present the National Science Foundation with a working prototype of the entire system. In the third year, they'll create fake arms to test on and pump them with blood, before moving onto human subjects. They're also working with Intel Labs, which is providing the technology in the wearable and helping with managing all of the sensitive information that will be sucked up by the devices.
Credit: Pedram Johari, PhD Candidate in Dr. Jornet's Research Lab
Right now, says Jornet, there's only one FDA-approved chemical that the researchers can add to the implant to make it reactive to indicators in the blood, but these are not 100%, and while the sensors are already small enough to be fit under the skin/in a tracker, one of the biggest challenges of the next three years will be to effectively deduce when the warning signs are legitimate. One indicator can be linked to different diseases, and by the other hand, one disease can have multiple indicators.
While the wearable system will specifically look for signs of lung cancer, Jornet says only one layer of the implant is what makes it specific to this type of cancer, but there are biomarkers for other types which could work by changing that layer.
"Its one of those cancers you really want to detect at an early stage," said Jornet, who added that their research could also lead to pushing the science forward by better honing in on the early signs of this disease.
"We will start by testing the system with the FDA approved indicator, but part of the research is that, once we have a system that works, let's use it to not just diagnose the patient, but to learn which other biomarkers are going around."