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Small device may be able to detect pancreatic cancer

February 17, 2014

Researchers at the University of Washington have crafted a device that may be able to form a better diagnosis than current methods for people who could have pancreatic cancer. Seniors over the age of 65 are the most likely to contract the disease, with the National Cancer Institute reporting that almost 70 percent of patients are within this range. Because this device is quick and effective at detecting, it may be the key to fighting the disease early on.

Unlike other forms of cancer, not much is known about pancreatic cancer or how it behaves. The University of Washington reported that the device, which is smaller than a credit card, is the first of its kind that would be able to alert medical officials as soon as a patient shows signs of the disease. The article explained that during a routine biopsy, doctors send tissue samples to a lab where cells are sliced and examined to look for red flags. Instead of having to ship specimens to another location, the new silicon device crafts a 3-D image of the tumor and projected growth of the cell, which researchers said was key to understanding how pancreatic cancer cells behave. 

In addition to giving scientists greater knowledge as to how the cancer may spread, the device provides a quicker method of detection. This may be especially helpful for healthy aging, as early diagnosis means patients can enroll in trials or seek treatment sooner. Eric Seibel, director of the University of Washington's Human Photonics Laboratory, detailed the benefits in a release.

"This new process is believed to help the pathologist make a more rapid diagnosis and be able to determine more accurately how invasive the cancer has become, leading to improved prognosis," Seibel said.

The university's team, which is funded by the National Science Foundation and the U.S. Department of Education, presented the prototype and its findings at the February SPIE Photonics West conference.