HomeTech NewsA wearable device that measures tumors that change in size under the...

A wearable device that measures tumors that change in size under the skin

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Engineers at the Georgia Institute of Technology and Stanford University have developed a small self-contained device with a stretchable/flexible sensor that can be attached to the skin to measure the size of tumors under the skin and their progression.

This noninvasive, battery-powered device is sensitive to a hundredth of a millimeter (10 micrometers) of contact. It is capable of wirelessly transmitting results to a smartphone app for real-time monitoring at the push of a button.

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A new non-invasive instrument to measure and monitor tumors

Research teams test thousands of potential new anticancer drugs each year in mice with subcutaneous tumors. Few of these projects progress to the point of being tested in human patients, and finding new therapies is slow because technologies to measure tumor regression from drug treatment take weeks to read an answer. Biological variation in tumors, shortcomings of existing measurement approaches, and relatively small sample sizes make drug testing difficult and time-consuming.

In practical terms, according to the researchers behind this proposal, the new device presented, called FAST by “Flexible Autonomous Sensor measuring Tumors” either “Flexible autonomous sensor that measures tumors” in Spanish, represents a new, fast, inexpensive, hands-free and accurate way to test the efficacy of anticancer drugs. It could lead to promising new directions in cancer treatment on a larger scale.

FAST’s sensor is made of a stretchable, flexible skin-like polymer that includes an embedded layer of gold circuitry. This sensor is attached to a small electronic backpack designed by former postdocs and co-authors Yasser Khan and Naoji Matsuhisa. The device measures the tension in the membrane, how much it stretches or shrinks, and transmits that data to a smartphone. Using the FAST backpack, potential therapies related to tumor size regression can be quickly and reliably excluded as ineffective or expedited for further study.

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The researchers say the new device offers at least three significant advances. First, it provides continuous tracking, as the sensor is physically attached to the mouse and remains in place throughout the experimental period. Second, the flexible sensor wraps around the tumor and thus can measure changes in shape that are difficult to discern with other methods. Third, FAST is self-contained and non-invasive. It is attached to the skin, like a Band-Aid, is battery-powered and connects wirelessly. The mouse is free to move without device restraints or cables, and scientists do not need to actively manipulate the mice after sensor placement. FAST packs are also reusable, costing only $60 or more to assemble, and can be attached to the mouse in minutes.

The breakthrough is in the flexible electronic material of FAST. Coated over the skin-like polymer is a layer of gold that, when stretched, develops tiny cracks that change the electrical conductivity of the material. Stretch the material and the number of cracks will increase, which will also increase the electronic resistance in the sensor. When the material shrinks, the cracks come back into contact and conductivity improves.

One hurdle the researchers had to overcome was concern that the sensor itself might compromise the measurements by applying undue pressure to the tumor, effectively compressing it. To overcome that risk, they carefully matched the mechanical properties of the flexible material with the skin, to make the sensor as flexible as real skin.

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“It’s a deceptively simple design”Abramson says, “But these inherent advantages should be of great interest to the pharmaceutical and oncology communities. FAST could significantly accelerate, automate and reduce the cost of cancer detection therapies.”.

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