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Surprising Science

Keeping an Eye on Cancer

To this day, the biopsy is still the gold standard for diagnosing cancer. But there are definite limits to the procedure, one being that you only get a measurement at the time you extract the tissue. A group of scientists at MIT are developing a device that could modernize the way we detect and track the advancement of the deadly class of diseases.

MIT Professor Michael C. Fima and his team have created a prototype of a monitoring chip the size of a grain of rice that would be slipped into the site of the tumor with the same needle that administers biopsies. Once inside the body, the device would monitor tumor activity, as well as the effects of chemotherapy, by creating tiny clumps that can be detected by an MRI. So far, the scientists have tested the prototype on mice; the results are promising.

The next step would be to program the device to have it do more than just detect cancer. The hope is that the monitor would be able to trigger the release of drugs to combat the cancer cells from another connected device. The timeframe for when these devices may become available to humans is still far off. It will be another several years before the monitors are even tested on real-life patients. Next on the list: large animals with human-like tumors.


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