In a significant breakthrough that may one day even prevent the spread of cancer, engineers have created a new instrument that can easily detect if a cancerous tumor is aggressive or not.
The backpack-sized instrument can gently crush a wide range of materials, accurately quantifying the "squishiness." The squishiness in a tumor has recently been tied to its aggressiveness. In general, more aggressive tumors are stiffer, but the complex relationship will require more research.
"The device leaves the sample completely undamaged, which allows researchers to still perform other tests on it," said lead author Mark Harrison at University of Southern California.
Previous squishiness detectors required time-consuming alignment and were highly sensitive to environmental vibration. The new device uses fiber optics, taking a cue from the telecommunications industry.
The system squishes a sample on top of the optical fiber, changing the polarization of the laser inside in a predictable way that allows researchers to calculate the Young's modulus.
"Instruments able to measure a material's Young's modulus already existed, but they're large and require calibration each time they're moved," said Andrea Armani, an associate professor at University of Southern California and corresponding author of the study.
"Our device could be carried from hospital room to hospital room and doesn't need an engineer to operate it," Armani noted.
"Physical oncology represents a completely fresh approach to tackling the problem of cancer. It has the potential to provide huge insights as scientists throughout the world try to understand, treat and ultimately prevent cancer in humans," said Peter Kuhn, professor at the USC Dornsife College of Letters, Arts and Sciences.
The study was published in Applied Physics Letters