iPod, Android cancer device offers low-cost testing

Gene-Z, which runs on Android-based tablet or iPod Touch, performs genetic analysis on microRNAs to detect cancer. It could be especially welcome in developing countries with few, if any, cancer screening services.

Elizabeth Armstrong Moore
Elizabeth Armstrong Moore is based in Portland, Oregon, and has written for Wired, The Christian Science Monitor, and public radio. Her semi-obscure hobbies include climbing, billiards, board games that take up a lot of space, and piano.
Elizabeth Armstrong Moore

A professor of civil and environmental engineering at Michigan State University has unveiled a device that, in conjunction with an iPod Touch or Android-based tablet, analyzes microRNAs to detect cancer quickly and affordably.

Syed Hashsham explains his device. Michigan State University

Syed Hashsham says his Gene-Z device, which he demonstrated this week at the National Institutes of Health's first Cancer Detection and Diagnostics Conference, in Bethesda, Md., could dramatically improve early cancer detection in developing nations that have few, if any, cancer screenings services.

"Until now, little effort has been concentrated on moving cancer detection to global health settings in resource-poor countries," Reza Nassiri, the director of MSU's Institute of International Health, said in a school news release. Nassiri helped develop Gene-Z. "Early cancer detection in these countries may lead to affordable management of cancers with the aid of new screening and diagnostic technologies that can overcome global health care disparities."

Gene-Z has been programmed to screen for specific markers of cancer and, being a solar-powered handheld device with rechargeable batteries, could prove useful in places where resources are limited.

And it doesn't just analyze changes in certain microRNAs (single-strand molecules that regulate genes) to detect cancer. Gene-Z is also being designed to detect routine and drug-resistant tuberculosis; determine HIV levels during treatment; and monitor antibiotic resistance.

Nassiri stressed the importance of developing more appropriate, cost-effective technologies like Gene-Z for use in countries where current diagnostic and screening tests are expensive and resource-intensive.