Cool New Diagnostic Devices All Doctors Should Know About


 
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By John Murphy

Whether you’re a PCP or a specialist, you need to know what your colleagues in medical research are up to. It could affect the care you provide to your patients.

New diagnostic medical devices are popping up all the time, but here are some hot and buzzworthy technologies that could really transform how certain diagnoses are made—and how patients’ lives are saved.

Pen tests cancer on the spot

It’s difficult for surgeons to know when they’ve removed all the cancer tissue during a tumor excision. Added to this, using frozen sections for histopathologic analysis can be time and labor intensive. To that end, scientists at the University of Texas and Baylor College Medical Center came up with the MasSpec Pen for real-time non-destructive cancer diagnosis.

During cancer surgery, the surgeon applies the pen to the tissue surface for just a few seconds, during which time the pen releases a single water droplet onto the tissue. The water droplet, which picks up small biomolecules from the tissue, is then sucked back into the pen and transferred via tubing to a mass spectrometer. The spectrometer performs a quick molecular analysis, and the word “Normal” or “Cancer” is automatically displayed. The surgeon then knows which tissue to remove and which tissue to leave alone. The whole process takes 10 seconds or less. In a recent study of ovarian cancer tissue samples, the MasSpec Pen detected serous carcinoma with high sensitivity (96.7%) and specificity (95.7%).

‘Smart’ diaper detects UTIs

Any new parent will tell you that a smart diaper is simply one that doesn’t leak. Now, researchers at Purdue University have invented an actual “smart” diaper that detects urinary tract infections (UTIs)—the second-most common infection in children, and a problematic illness in the elderly. Because urine samples can be difficult to collect in these populations, the researchers invented a self-powered bandage-sized disposable sensor that, when fitted into a diaper, detects nitrites in urine that are commonly associated with UTIs. The researchers found during testing that the sensor was more accurate than commercial dipsticks. Plus, the smart diaper can check for UTIs on a regular basis, and can also track whether a UTI changes over time.

Smartphone identifies ‘cruise ship virus’

Norovirus—the “cruise ship virus”—sickens some 20 million Americans every year, inflicting severe vomiting, diarrhea, and stomach pain. Norovirus is difficult to detect, too, because virus particles are extremely small, requiring lab-based equipment. As few as 10 particles can cause an infection. But recently, University of Arizona scientists announced they’ve developed a sensitive, portable, smartphone-based device that can detect as few as a handful of norovirus particles.

Using mostly off-the-shelf components, the investigators turned a smartphone, a light microscope, a light source, and two band-pass filters into a handheld computerized fluorescence microscope. The device scans a paper microfluidic chip that holds a suspension of fluorescent beads—the beads have norovirus antibodies attached to them. So, when a water sample is added, any norovirus particles present will cling to the antibodies, which are then easily detected by the clumping of their fluorescent beads. Using the smartphone’s camera, an app is then able to calculate the concentration of the norovirus to almost the single-particle level.

The inventors anticipate that the device will be used especially to provide early detection where lab-based analysis is unavailable—such as on crowded cruise ships or in water wells in remote areas—to halt the spread of sickness before it reaches outbreak levels.

Belly balloon for Barrett’s esophagus

A team led by researchers at Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine have developed a small, swallowable balloon to detect Barrett’s esophagus—a condition that precedes esophageal adenocarcinoma, a cancer with 80% mortality at 5 years. But Barrett’s esophagus has symptoms similar to acid reflux, so people often don’t get tested for it and later develop esophageal cancer. Because the current method for testing is endoscopy, the researchers sought an easier, faster, less invasive, less expensive screening method that could encourage earlier diagnosis, avoiding cancer.

The device they invented is a small, swallowable balloon that goes down the esophagus to sample DNA, which serve as biomarkers for Barrett’s. The balloon is packed into a pill-sized capsule attached to a thin silicone catheter. When the capsule reaches the stomach, the balloon is inflated and maneuvered to swab cells that line the lower esophagus. Then, it’s deflated, retracting back into the capsule, and brought back up and out of the mouth. The outpatient procedure takes only 5 minutes, and was more than 90% accurate in detecting Barrett’s esophagus in preliminary testing. It recently received 510K clearance from the FDA and will be marketed under the tradename EsoCheck.

'Airport scanner’ diagnoses skin cancer

Researchers at Stevens Institute of Technology have developed a diagnostic process that applies the same shortwave rays used in airport security scanners to distinguish cancerous skin lesions from normal skin. They plan to incorporate it into a handheld, non-invasive, affordable scanning device that would provide a diagnostic reading almost instantly.

The technology uses millimeter-wave radiation, which bounces off different materials with quantifiable reflectivity signatures. The researchers found that cancerous tumors reflect more calibrated energy than healthy skin, so the technology identifies diseased tissue by detecting reflectivity hotspots. The device could be used in any clinical setting, and would reduce the number of unnecessary biopsies by 50%, the researchers predicted.

 
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