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Stanford University School of Medicine

The power and limits of zeroing in: Stanford Medicine magazine on diagnostics


Could my toilet save my life some day? Or could my bra?

When professor and chair of radiology Sam Gambhir, MD, PhD, met with me and the rest of Stanford Medicine magazine's editorial team to plan our special report on diagnostics, he explained why that's not as absurd as it sounds.

Gambhir envisions a future in which we nearly continuously monitor our health. So he's developing diagnostic tools, such as a "smart" toilet to detect diabetes and a smart bra to detect breast cancer. As he explains in our new issue, the resulting data might tell each of us, or our health-care team, if something is amiss right away.

"The future is all about being able to intercept diseases early and, ideally, prevent them. If we can actually do something about a disease such as an aggressive cancer, then it is worth monitoring for it," Gambhir said in the lead article of the magazine’s report on diagnostics.

The fall magazine, produced with the support of Stanford’s Department of Radiology, includes a Q&A with Travis Tygart, CEO of the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency. The online version of the magazine includes an edited recording of the conversation with Tygart about cleaning up sports.

Also in the special report:

  • "And yet, you try": The story of Gambhir's quest to save his son after he was diagnosed with a brain tumor — and his son’s legacy to diagnostics.
  • "Hearing things": An article about how School of Medicine Dean Lloyd Minor, MD, discovered the cause of certain patients’ extraordinary hearing problems — for instance, hearing the sound of their own eyeballs moving — and went on to find a cure.
  • "Eight ways to see inside": A sampler of diagnostic tools emerging from Stanford, including a magneto-sensor that detects cancer proteins with sensitivity hundreds of times greater than current methods, an ultrasound camera-in-a-pill that can see through the walls of intestines, and a software program for analyzing tumor tissue samples that determines a prognosis more accurately than people can.
  • "Listen up": An article on the stethoscope, asking whether the 200-year-old device is still relevant. A video about the stethoscope, featuring Stanford clinicians, including professor of medicine and bestselling author Abraham Verghese, MD, is available in the magazine online.
  • "Breaking the code": A story about a family seeking an explanation for a mysterious seizure disorder striking two of their children, and how using computers to mine genetic data can secure answers more quickly.

The issue also includes an essay by physician-journalist Nancy Snyderman, MD, a consulting professor with Stanford’s Center for Innovation in Global Health, on the collision of science and politics, and an excerpt from Drug Dealer, MD, a new book by Stanford assistant professor of psychiatry Anna Lembke, MD, on how doctors are fueling the opioid epidemic.

Previously: Strive, thrive and take five: Stanford Medicine magazine on the science of well-being, Ties that heal: Stanford Medicine magazine examines relationships and Precision health: A special report from Stanford Medicine magazine
Illustration by Paul Wearing

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