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Wearable device measures changing shape of tumours

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Tumours

Engineers in the US have created a small, automomous device with a flexible sensor that can measure the changing size of tumours.

The non-invasive device is sensitive to one-hundredth of a millimetre and can wirelessly beam results to a smartphone app wirelessly in real-time at the touch of a button.

The researchers say that their device—dubbed FAST for “Flexible Autonomous Sensor measuring Tumors”—represents a new, fast, low-cost, hands-free and accurate way to test the efficacy of cancer drugs.

The device could lead to promising new directions in cancer treatment, they believe.

Researchers test thousands of potential cancer drugs on mice with subcutaneous tumours every year.

However, few make it to human patients, and the process for finding new therapies is slow because technologies for measuring tumour regression from drug treatment take weeks to read out a response.

The biological variation of tumours, the shortcomings of existing measuring approaches, and the relatively small sample sizes make drug screenings challenging and labour-intensive.

Alex Abramson, first author of the study and a recent post-doc in the lab of Zhenan Bao at the Stanford School of Engineering and now an assistant professor at Georgia Tech, said:

“In some cases, the tumours under observation must be measured by hand with callipers.”

Measuring with callipers is not ideal, and radiological approaches cannot deliver the sort of continuous data needed for real-time assessment.

FAST can detect changes in tumour volume in minutes, while calliper and bioluminescence measurements often require weeks-long observation periods.

FAST’s sensor is comprised of a flexible and stretchable skin-like polymer that includes an embedded layer of gold circuitry.

This sensor is connected to a small electronic backpack and measures how much the membrane stretches or shrinks, transmitting that data to a smartphone.

Using FAST, potential therapies linked to tumour size regression can quickly and confidently be excluded as ineffective or fast-tracked for further study.

The researchers say that the device offers at least three major advances.

Firstly, it provides continuous monitoring, as the sensor is physically connected to the mouse and remains in place over the entire experimental period.

Secondly, the flexible sensor enshrouds the tumour so measure shape changes that are difficult to discern with other methods.

Thirdly, FAST is both autonomous and non-invasive. The device is connected to the skin like a plaster, battery operated and connected wirelessly.

FAST’s flexible electronic material represents a real breakthrough, the researchers say.

A layer of gold is coated on top of the skin-like polymer which, when stretched, develops small cracks that change the electrical conductivity of the material.

When the material is stretched, the number of cracks increases, causing the electronic resistance in the sensor to increase as well.

And when the material contracts, the cracks come back into contact and conductivity improves.

Abramson said:

“It is a deceptively simple design.

“But these inherent advantages should be very interesting to the pharmaceutical and oncological communities.

“FAST could significantly expedite, automate and lower the cost of the process of screening cancer therapies.”

Image: Stanford University

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