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Bioengineers make cancer detector from digital camera


In the spirit of do-it-yourselfer Mark Frauenfelder, Rice University bioengineers have jury-rigged a cancer-detection device from a $400 digital camera and a bundle of fiber-optic cables.

The team, who published their results yesterday in the journal PLoS One, tested three tissue sample types: cancer cell cultures that were grown in the lab, tissue from excised oral tumors and healthy tissue viewed in the mouths of study subjects. (Tissues were treated with a common fluorescent dye, which caused cell nuclei to glow when lighted with the tip of the fiber-optic bundle.) In all cases, they were able to easily distinguish precancerous and cancerous cells from healthy ones simply by viewing the LCD monitor on the camera.

Said study co-author Mark Pierce, PhD:

"The dyes and visual techniques that we used are the same sort that pathologists have used for many years to distinguish healthy cells from cancerous cells in biopsied tissueBut the tip of the imaging cable is small and rests lightly against the inside the cheek, so the procedure is considerably less painful than a biopsy and the results are available in seconds instead of days."

Because the device is so cheaply constructed, the researchers say it is well suited for use in countries or regions where conventional diagnostic technology is too expensive.

Photo by BigTallGuy

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