Part of fighting cancer is finding it as early as possible. But, ask any doctor, catching cancer early can be difficult to say the least; sorting a precancerous mass of cells, or finding a cancer tumor the size of a pinprick, is something medical technology is struggling to deal with. But the University of Queensland has an idea that not only might make spotting cancer easier, they can cram it into a smartphone.
Essentially, it’s all about light. Researchers at the University of Queensland have been studying the mantis shrimp, notable for being amazing and scary in equal measure, and how it sees the world. We see, of course, using color and contrast. The mantis shrimp, however, sees using polarized light. Yes, it is essentially wearing fancy sunglasses all the time, and it can punch you into oblivion. You could argue it inspired the ’80s.
Anyway, polarized light bounces off cancer cells differently than other types of light, so the team created a method to translate that into color. This is important because polarized light can pass through some materials, but not others, as you learned from your sunglasses. So, essentially, you can shine a light on somebody and see whether or not they have cancer.
This method already exists to some degree, but pairing it with the mantis shrimp research means it’s less invasive, more accurate, smaller, and, most importantly, cheaper. It can even be paired with algorithms to automate spotting it, so you could get a notification that you might have a terrible disease. Which sounds awful, but it beats finding out from the doctor six months later.
While putting it in a smartphone isn’t on the boards just yet, that’s the ultimate goal and in theory, the system works to a high degree of accuracy. So, sooner rather than later, expect Google and Apple to start bragging about how accurate their cancer detection systems are.