New breakthroughs in early cancer detection

Jorge Soto presents his microRNA detection methods to find cancer early and repeatably.

Jorge Soto starts his TEDTalk with a bold statement – biotech is advancing at six times the rate of the computer processing power. He takes advantage of this fact and the opportunities it affords to continue to develop his cancer detection technology.

In his TEDTalk, The future of early cancer detection?, Soto discusses his team, his work, and his motivations for detecting cancer. His aunt went to the doctor after suffering from back pain, and it was recommended she do therapy.

Several tests were done with no results and eventually a biopsy revealed stage 3 lung cancer. Because his aunt was very healthy and did not smoke or drink doctors did not see any risk of cancer, and the diagnosis took almost six months to occur. This is Jorge’s inspiration to develop a faster, easier, smarter, earlier test for cancer.

When cancer is in our body protein modification can be detected in all cancer cells. The team is trying to find microRNAs, molecules that tell the body how to develop and build proteins in the body.

No two cancers are the same by the time symptoms are present, but in the early stages each type of cancer exhibits some of the same behaviors. Soto is relying on the microRNA level of cancer to have patterns and being able to catalogue and find these patterns.

After the background and explanation Soto demonstrates his test. First RNA samples are taken and placed into a multi-chambered tray. The tray is placed in a testing device and then a smartphone is used to run the test, taking advantage of its camera and processors.

Each chamber looks for a specific microRNA in the samples, and will shine a green color if that microRNA is present. The test takes about sixty minutes total, and after completion the data is sent to the online database for processing and interpretation.

A chart shows the specific microRNAs present in the sample and how they react over time, and then the data is compared to each sample in the database to find patterns that match current known diseases.

The project is still in its early phases but has already identified pancreatic cancer, lung cancer, breast cancer and hepatic cancer. In October 2014 a clinical trial with the German Cancer Research Center is screening two hundred women for breast cancer.

Soto hopes that this early detection method will continue to develop and give medical professionals and patients and edge in treating and overcoming their cancers. The methods and outcomes presented here are amazing and I hope the contribution to the field of medicine is significant.

This test is simple, noninvasive, low cost, accurate and portable. The patterns can be found without knowing which specific cancer is being sought out, and no symptoms need to be present. One milliliter of blood and a simple set of tools might soon be the early cancer detection method we all use.