Scientists have developed a new cancer-detecting camera inspired by the mantis shrimp, Smithsonian reports. The shrimp have compound eyes capable not only of seeing waves of light but of spotting differences in polarised light, which is light radiating in different directions.
It’s easier to see cancer cells under polarised light because they reflect light differently than healthy cells. By using a tiny smartphone sensor, researchers were able to replicate the way a mantis shrimp’s vision works. They now have a working prototype that can capture cancer cells more quickly than other polarised image devices, using photos and video. It’s also smaller than a penny, making it cheaper to make and easier to use than existing polarised imaging devices.
The researchers, including neurobiologists and computer engineers from the University of Queensland, Washington University, the University of Maryland and the University of Bristol, published info on their design in the Proceedings of the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers.
They say that in future this could replace biopsies, where doctors remove cells from a patient for analysis under a microscope. The new device is small enough to be attached to a tube, so can detect cancer in the body at the time of examination – and before it’s even visible to the human eye, leading to a much better chance of treatment being successful.
More research and refinement of the device is needed before it can be trialled in humans, and the scientists are currently working to add colour contrasts, to make it easier for doctors to use. They even say that because it’s so compact, one day this technology could become so commonplace that we’ll all able to accurately detect whether we have cancer using our smartphones. Whether we want to get an instant diagnosis in our kitchens, of course, remains to be seen.
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