Nearly all diseases take time and money to diagnose. A new test that exploits a quirk of physics could make blood tests for certain diseases faster, cheaper, and easily performed in virtually any setting.
Circulating tumor cells (CTCs) are a rare type of cancer cell that are found in the blood stream of patients with localized tumors. Successful separation of CTCs from blood could serve as a liquid biopsy to help diagnose cancer and monitor treatment progress. A deeper understanding of CTCs could also lead to a better understanding of the most deadly cancer process: metastasis, where cancer cells leave established tumors and migrate to other locations in the body.
Last week, Paul Kalanithi – a writer and new dad, who recently completed his residency in neurosurgery at Stanford – died from metastatic lung cancer. In this video, released last month, Kalanithi addresses the “strange relativity” that accompanied his diagnosis.
The video is full of insights about how Kalanithi’s diagnosis altered his relationship with time. These insights are of course all the more affecting in light of his various roles as a doctor, patient, father, and husband.
A team of researchers, led by Samuel K. Sia, associate professor of biomedical engineering at Columbia Engineering, has developed a low-cost smartphone accessory that can perform a point-of-care test that simultaneously detects three infectious disease markers from a finger prick of blood in just 15 minutes. The device replicates, for the first time, all mechanical, optical, and electronic functions of a lab-based blood test. Specifically, it performs an enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay (ELISA) without requiring any stored energy: all necessary power is drawn from the smartphone. It performs a triplexed immunoassay not currently available in a single test format: HIV antibody, treponemal-specific antibody for syphilis, and non-treponemal antibody for active syphilis infection.
…During the field testing in Rwanda, health care workers were given 30 minutes of training, which included a user-friendly interface to aid the user through each test, step-by-step pictorial directions, built-in timers to alert the user to next steps, and records of test results for later review. The vast majority of patients (97%) said they would recommend the dongle because of its fast turn-around time, ability to offer results for multiple diseases, and simplicity of procedure.
The first installment in the series, by Richard Panek, centers on his personal experience with a scary, intermittent fever, and a surprising realization about modern medicine – namely, that it’s a lot younger than most people realize.
The doctor was sitting in a chair next to the window, gazing out. His features were grim. I watched him from my hospital bed, trying to discern meaning in his own effort to discern meaning in my symptoms. Silence. Finally, he spoke: “Medicine is an art, not a science.”
The page is amounts to fiction, with the single point that medication has been around for roughly 100 years. Which is understandable – laboratories, equipment and scientific process matured in the early 1900s but there was a lot of fumbling with things we only begin to understand recently. Like how Madam Curie’s notebook is stored in a lead box, it’s that irradiated. Thalidomide, how the CIA investigated LSD as a truth serum… There’s lots of stuff that we only learned at the cost of human life and well being – lead in paint and such… It’s evolution on a different sense. Now we have more at our disposal – we’ve mapped the human genome but we’re working on understanding what we have and what we can do with that information.