This Machine Is Poised To Join The Fight Against Cancer

Can you imagine a near future where your family doctor can effectively prick your finger and test you for a dozen or so types of cancer? Currently, cancer detection is a time-consuming and expensive process. Existing methods of screening for cancer usually involve taking a whole lot of blood and running tests that cost thousands of dollars. But Toshiba has created a cancer-detecting machine that sounds like something straight out of science fiction.

A researcher tests the Toray method. Image via Nikkei Asian Review

The machine is about the size of a small office copier, and it looks like one, too. But this small machine can do some powerful tricks. Toshiba claims that the machine can detect 13 types of cancer from a single drop of blood with 99% accuracy. What’s more impressive is that it can do this under two hours, as opposed to days or weeks depending on laboratory backlog. Most importantly, they are aiming to do this entire battery of tests for about $180. Ideally, this machine will do everything that current blood cancer detection equipment does, just better, faster, and with fewer resources.

Some of the cancers the machine can test for have been previously difficult to detect, like ovarian, pancreatic, and esophageal cancer. But this machine can screen for all three of these¬† — great news for early detection of these ravaging cancers — as well as breast, prostate, gastric, colon, liver, biliary tract, bladder, lung, brain, and sarcoma. The only catch is that the machine can’t pinpoint which cancer exactly, it only knows if microRNA one or more of the 13 came up.

Image source: Toshiba Corporate Reserach Center

So, how does it work? Cancer cells secrete certain types of microRNA into the bloodstream that healthy cells don’t. The machine works by assessing the different types of microRNA that show up in the sample drop, and studying their concentrations. Their work builds on that of Toray Industries, who announced earlier this year that they had made a cancer-detection chip based on microRNA accumulation that is 95% accurate. Development of this chip follows on the heels of research that finds testing for microRNA in bloodwork has the potential to detect cancers in earlier stages, and in some cases like for bowel cancer, with a much less invasive testing procedure.

Toshiba, in partnership with the National Cancer Center Research Institute and Tokyo Medical University will conduct a trial of the machine next year. If the trial is successful, they hope to commercialize it soon after.