Researchers Develop Cancer Detection Wearable Device

A wearable device that can detect cancer cells shows promise during animal testing. The new technology screens for cancer cells in larger volumes of circulating blood, making liquid biopsies obsolete.   ( Tae Hyun Kim )

A wearable device that can detect and collect cancer cells from the patient's circulating blood has the potential to replace liquid biopsies in the future.

The new technology has been tested in animal models and has proven itself to be effective in diagnosing the deadly disease. According to researchers, the device enables effective and early diagnosis and allows doctors to target tumors with adequate treatment.

Details about the wearable device for cancer detection appear in the journal Nature Communications.

Early Detection Through A Wearable Device

The device works by "filtering" cancer cells from a patient's circulating blood, making it more effective in diagnosing the disease than the current method, which is through liquid biopsy.

Tumors release more than a thousand cancer cells into the bloodstream that, in theory, could be detected through blood testing. However, the disease is not easily detected because cancer cells released into the blood circulate quickly and might not show up in a single blood sample. Sometimes, even among patients who have advanced stage cancer, blood samples return negative.

The wearable tech solves this problem by continuously capturing cancer cells directly from the patient's vein. This process allows the device to detect cancer cells from larger volumes of blood, making it more effective than liquid biopsies.

"It's the difference between having a security camera that takes a snapshot of a door every five minutes or takes a video," explained Sunitha Nagrath, an associate professor of chemical engineering at the University of Michigan. She led the development of the device. "If an intruder enters between the snapshots, you wouldn't know about it."

Animal Testing Yields Promising Results

The researchers tested the wearable device among dogs. The team injected adult dogs with human cancer cells (that will be cleared by their immune systems in a few hours and will not have any lasting effects).

The dogs were given sedatives and were fitted with the technology that screened about 1 to 2 percent of their blood. The dogs also had their blood drawn every 20 minutes and placed on a chip of the same design.

At the end of the experiment, the researchers reported that the wearable device was able to trap 3.5 times as many cancer cells per milliliter of blood compared to the traditional method of drawing a blood sample.

The team hopes to continue to improve the wearable device by increasing its blood processing rate. They also expect to advance to human trials in about three to five years.

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