London: Scientists have developed a mobile phone-based system which they say can detect cancer more accurately than the techniques routinely used in hospitals.
Developed by a team at the Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston, the device is claimed to be up to 100 per cent accurate at telling the difference between benign tumours and their malignant counterparts.
It also takes just an hour to make the diagnosis, meaning patients don't have to spend days or weeks anxiously waiting for test results, the researchers said.
The gadget, they believe, could "transform cancer care" by also making it easier for doctors to track how well drugs are fighting the disease in a patient's body, the Daily Mail reported.
The researchers found that in initial tests, the device was 88 per cent accurate in distinguishing cancerous stomach tumours from benign growths.
Refining the technique boosted accuracy to 100 per cent, they reported in the journal Science Translational Medicine. The device, which is likely to cost about 60 pounds or so, consists of a smartphone connected to a miniature MRI machine.
In tests, patients with suspected stomach cancer had tiny samples of their growths removed using a fine needle. The researchers then added in antibodies designed to bind to proteins found in stomach tumours and tiny magnetic particles designed to latch onto the antibodies.
They then used the magnet in the hand-held MRI machine to excite the molecules in the sample, making them vibrate. The more the molecules vibrate, the more likely the sample is cancerous, the researchers found.
A special application on the smartphone then computes the results and provides doctors with a read-out. Researcher Dr Cesar Castro said: "The smartphone app is an easy-to-use interface that both controls the desk phone-sized apparatus as well as receives the data.
"We must emphasise that this is a quantitative readout with no room for subjectivity or manipulation by whoever is processing. This is important -- whether the results are generated in Boston, London, or Lima the data remains the data. It also allows for apples to apples comparisons."
Testing on larger groups of patients is needed, but if all goes well, the system could be in widespread use in hospitals in as little as three years, the researchers said.
But, it would not be suitable for home use, they added. In future, the researchers hoped, the smartphone system could be adapted to spot brain, skin and ovarian cancers quickly and accurately.
Recently, a team from Duke University in North Carolina has claimed to have developed a laser-based device that could take the worry out of suspicious moles.