New device will detect infections, cancer in minutes
Toronto's medical community is buzzing about an invention that could change the way health professionals screen for infectious disease and cancer.
"We've been working on this, really, for about a decade," said Dr. Shana Kelley, a scientist at the University of Toronto.
Kelley spoke as she held a small black device her hand, shaped like a smartphone but bulkier, with a microchip inside that Kelley says can determine in 15 minutes if you have cancer or an infectious disease.
The device works with a blood sample or swab placed on a microchip. It then reads — and recognizes — certain types of cells.
Kelley says eventually there will be a disposable cartridge that contains the sample.
Instead of days, or sometimes weeks, before patients get their results, with the new machine they're ready in minutes.
For those on health care's front-lines, the promise of an early diagnosis means more lives can be saved.
"Infectious disease is the medical condition where rapid turnaround is maybe most critical and our chip, coupled with portable instrumentation, are good at providing very fast answers," Kelley said.
It could also save the health care system millions. In the case of detecting prostate cancer it means no more lengthy, costly and uncomfortable biopsies.
"I think it's superb and very exciting," said Dr. Robert Nam, an uro-oncologist at Sunnybrook Hospital, who believes Kelley and her team's invention will transform the medical community in Canada and abroad.
"We can identify patients with most lethal cancer…and, secondly, how about avoiding a biopsy?" he said.
Canada and the United States have invested millions and there's a European company that's jumped on board with more cash for this invention, which they hope will be in use in a couple of years.
Expectations are high.
"It will allow physicians out in the field, and I'm thinking public health physicians, to be able to assess patients right then and there," said Dr. Frances Jamieson, a medical microbiologist with Public Health Ontario. She highlighted tuberculosis as one possible disease the new device could diagnose faster.