World's first device that can monitor cancer tumor growth in real-time is here

"FAST" diagnosis for fast cancer treatment.
Rupendra Brahambhatt
FAST sensor with a layer of gold circuitry.
FAST sensor with a layer of gold circuitry.

Alex Abramson, Bao Group, Stanford University

A team of researchers from Stanford University’s Bao Group has created a groundbreaking device called FAST (Flexible Autonomous Sensor measuring Tumors). It is believed to be the first tool capable of measuring the growth of cancerous tumors and sharing the details of the same on your smartphone in real-time.

FAST would work as a battery-operated non-invasive and hands-free wearable device to monitor cancer in the human body and check the effectiveness of drugs in cancer patients. Although it has currently only been tested on animal models, researchers have plans to soon make the device ready for human use. Currently, it takes a long time to find new cancer treatment therapies because analyzing the effect of a therapy on cancer cell tumors is a slow process.

Scientists have to wait for weeks and sometimes even months to get the measurement reports of tumor regression resulting from a new therapy. However, with FAST, they would be able to study the effect of a therapy on cancer tumors in real-time. First author and assistant professor at Georgia Institute of Technology, Alex Abramson, told IE, “We hope that it will allow us to better understand the short-term effects of drugs on tumors and allow scientists and healthcare professionals an easier method to screen drugs that could become therapies in the future.”

FAST has the potential to revolutionize cancer diagnosis and treatment

World's first device that can monitor cancer tumor growth in real-time is here
FAST system prototype.

The researchers suggest that current methods for detecting tumor progression or regression, such as caliper or imaging-based measurements, require significant human intervention and also have limitations in their time- and length-scale dimensions. Plus, these measurements can only be taken every few days due to the labor and costs associated with the procedures. The FAST pack automates the entire process of measuring tumor volume regression, meaning that it can perform the measurements continuously without any added cost or labor.

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The FAST device consists of a sensor made up of a thin layer of gold placed on top of an elastic polymer and a tiny electronic backpack. The sensor is flexible and stretchable and expands or shrinks with the tumor as it progresses. As the sensor stretches the gold layer inside, FAST begins to crack, which increases the path length of the electrons through the sensor and, therefore, the resistance of the sensor.

The change in resistance indicates the growth and shrinking of the tumor. The data highlighting the tumor measurements is directly sent to an app on the user’s smartphone via Bluetooth. The researchers successfully tested FAST on a mouse and measured the change in size and shape of tumors without restricting the activity of the animal.

Scope and limitations of FAST

World's first device that can monitor cancer tumor growth in real-time is here
A microscopic view of breast cancer cells.

FAST is the first cancer tumor measurement device that is autonomous, battery-operated, non-invasive, and completely wireless. Plus, it is smartphone-friendly, easy to assemble, and reusable. Interestingly, the price of FAST packs used for tumor measurement in the mouse stood at only around $60, which makes it a very inexpensive piece of technology.

The device can completely change the way cancer is diagnosed in humans, and it can significantly increase the speed at which new cancer drugs and treatment methods are tested. However, FAST has only been tested on animals, and further research is required before the technology is made available to humans.

“This study was only performed on animal models and on two different tumor types. Future research will be required to understand if our findings can be generalized to more types of cancer and to humans. Additionally, our device currently only works for tumors on or near the skin, and we are working to develop a surgically implantable device that allows us to track tumors deeper in the body,” Professor Abramson told IE.

The researchers are now planning to test their device on more cancer models. This will help them understand the relationship between the tumor’s short-term and long-term responses to a drug.

The article is published in the journal Science Advances.

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