Although cancer fatality rates have been falling steadily over the last 26 years, over 1.8 million new cancer cases in the US are expected to be recorded for 2020. Researchers work tirelessly on finding new ways to identify, diagnose and treat all forms of cancer, and are increasingly looking to new technology to help. The images from medical cameras such as endoscopes help doctors to find cancer cells and tumors that may otherwise be missed. However, with an increasing number of treatments and therapies available, subsequently deciding on the most appropriate treatment can still be difficult. Two recent developments, using technology inspired by natural processes or combined with biological structures, are providing oncologists with more precise methods of examination and treatment.
Improving Viewing Techniques
Endoscopes allow clinicians to view and diagnose intestinal tract cancers, using a minimally invasive procedure. They work in a similar way to videoscopes that use a small, medical grade camera on the end of a flexible tube to send images to a video screen in real time. SPI videoscopes can be used to inspect inside medical equipment or machinery, using LED lights for illumination. An endoscope uses fluorescent light to provide visual feedback from internal bodily images. To enhance these images further, a new medical endoscope inspired by biology uses both visible light and fluorescent light simultaneously to detect and view cancerous cells. The capability to combine the two is borrowed from the compound eyes of the mantis shrimp, which allows it to pick up different wavelengths of light at the same time. As a result, information from an endoscopy can be gathered much quicker and potentially viewed remotely during robotic procedures in the future.
Determining Effective Treatment
There are many different types of treatment for cancer, ranging from invasive surgical procedures to remove tumors to hormone therapies that slow or stop their growth. Selecting the right treatment is not always straightforward, as patient’s may react differently to a treatment depending on their genes. A small medtech startup has recently been recognized for its work on creating a new screening test for cancer treatments, which can help clinicians find an effective, personalized cancer treatment for each patient. The test uses biological tissue created from Wharton’s Jelly (stem cell material found in human umbilical cords) to create a gauze-like material. This is then bioengineered so that when a patient’s blood sample is placed in it, cancer cells are identified and isolated. These cells can then be tested with a variety of cancer treatments to find the one that will be most effective in each case. This helps oncologists to create a specific treatment plan in the lab before it is administered to their patient.
Cancer continues to be one of the leading causes of illness and death worldwide. The use of technology in medical screening and diagnosis is transforming healthcare treatments, and when it is inspired by nature or combined with biological material it becomes even more powerful in the fight against cancer.