New sensor tracks tumors in real time

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Oct. 19, 2022 — A first-of-its-kind wearable device could give doctors and researchers the ability to offer better insights into how tumors respond to treatments.

Medicine has made enormous progress in the fight against cancer. Over the past 3 decades, the average risk of a person dying from cancer in the United States has decreased by 32%through factors such as early detection and advances in drug treatment.

Yet even with increasing survival rates, cancer remains prevalent. According to the American Cancer Society, cancer is the second leading cause of death in the United States and scientists continue to look for ways to reverse the trend against cancer.

But now a new tool – a wearable device – can tell in real time how much a tumor is growing or shrinking, sending those results wirelessly to a smartphone for analysis. The device has proven itself and is already being used in animal studies.

“Our technology is the first bioelectronic device to monitor tumor regression and the first technology to monitor tumors in real time,” says Alex Abramson, PhD, assistant professor in the School of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering at Georgia Tech and co-author of a new study of the device.

The sensor uses technology similar to other hoses, skin-like wearable devices capable of capturing biometric data, including by sweat. But what makes this sensor unique is the chemical element that allows it to detect these tumor changes: gold.

Gold is a useful material because it is flexible and conductive. In newer monitors, a gold-infused sensor is stuck to the skin around the tumor to be measured. If the tumor grows, the gold coating cracks and becomes less conductive. As the tumor shrinks, these cracks close up and the material becomes more conductive.

“We measure these changes in conductivity, and we translate them into measurements of changes in tumor volume,” says Abramson.

Currently, the most widely used methods for measuring tumor size are calipers or bioluminescence imaging (BLI). These measurements are useful and accurate, but they are usually taken every few days or weeks. The new sensor captures updates every 5 minutes – and can also detect extremely small changes that calipers and BLIs cannot.

“Our sensor will allow us to better understand the short-term effects of drugs on tumors and provide scientists and healthcare professionals with an easier method to screen for drugs that may become therapies in the future,” Abramson said. .

The sensors are already available for use in animal studies, although it will be several years before they are intended for human use. And they cost less than you would imagine for something containing gold.

“The sensor can be made by a researcher for less than $60,” Abramson says.

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