Toshiba is developing a device that can use a single drop of blood to test for 13 types of cancer


The main reason why the word “cancer” strikes fear into our hearts is because it is the second leading cause of death globally. In 2018 alone, it claimed 9.6 million lives in countries around the world. Sadly, the ability to pay for diagnosis and treatment also has a significant impact on the mortality rate for cancer. About 70% of cancer deaths occur in low- and middle-income countries. However, it must be admitted that, especially in developing countries, the lack of access to proper diagnosis and treatment plays a key role in the increase in the mortality rate.
Therefore, it is really good news that Toshiba Corporation has developed a technology that can be used to detect 13 types of cancer. What is even more striking is that the equipment that has been developed uses a single drop of blood and can detect cancer with 99% accuracy. This can eventually lead to a scenario where there is less need for CT scans, endoscopies, and other very expensive diagnostic techniques.
Toshiba had developed the diagnostic method by working in collaboration with the National Cancer Center Research Institute and Tokyo Medical University in Japan. The next step the research team needs to take is to make the technology usable on a practical basis by testing whether the high accuracy rate can be maintained in trials that cover more specimens. The current plan is to begin testing the new equipment in 2020 and have the process commercially viable within a few years.
“A lot of hope is placed on the practical use of the technology,” said Tomio Nakayama, head of the Screening Assessment and Management Division at the National Cancer Center Japan. “But there have been countless examples of research struggling to control costs and establish screening methods. A crucial test awaits the (researchers).”
Using technology for early detection of cancer would go a long way in treating cancer in its early stages and thus reducing the mortality rate.
The method works by looking closely at the types and concentration of microRNA molecules secreted into the blood by cancer cells. There are approximately 2,500 types of microRNAs. According to experts, the amount of some of these microRNAs that is produced in cancer cells is different from that produced in healthy cells, and researchers hope to take advantage of this difference for cancer screening.
Toshiba isn’t the only company working on this technology. Toray Industries Inc. and several other companies are also exploring developing technologies to diagnose cancer using microRNA molecules from a blood sample, but Toshiba is the only company to have announced significant developments in this regard.
Koji Hashimoto, chief researcher at Toshiba’s Frontier Research Laboratory, told a press conference that, compared to methods used by other companies, Toshiba’s methods far surpass them in terms of the degree of accuracy in the cancer detection, time to detection and cost.
The test developed by Toshiba can be used for the detection of cancers of the stomach, esophagus, lung, liver, bile ducts, pancreas, intestine, ovary, prostate, bladder and breast as well as sarcomas and gliomas. The method involves the use of a chip and a small device that can perform the diagnosis in less than two hours. With these, a blood test can be performed at a nominal cost of 20,000 JPY (183 USD) or less. The company hopes that this blood test will soon become part of annual medical exams and other screenings. The new test undoubtedly promises to save a lot of time and money in cancer detection. Tests that are currently in vogue such as x-ray diagnosis rely heavily on visual judgments, which means there is less chance of detecting minor tumors and ‘stage zero’ cancer. Therefore, there is more room for error.
The only downside to the test is that although it can detect with staggering accuracy whether a patient has cancer, it is unable at this stage to use the test to determine which of the 13 types of cancer the patient has.
As part of its five-year business strategy it announced in April 2019, Toshiba said its medical businesses, including genome analysis and cell diagnostics, would be its main growth pillars along with automation, batteries and digital solutions using artificial intelligence. .


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