The future of early cancer detection?
Along with a crew of technologists and scientists, Jorge Soto is developing a simple, noninvasive, open-source test that looks for early signs of multiple forms of cancer. Onstage at TEDGlobal 2014, he demonstrates a working prototype of the mobile platform for the first time.
Almost a year ago, my aunt started suffering back pains. She went to see the doctor and they told her it was a normal injury for someone who had been playing tennis for almost 30 years. They recommended that she do some therapy, but after a while she wasn’t feeling better, so the doctors decided to do further tests. They did an x-ray and discovered an injury in her lungs, and at the time they thought that the injury was a strain in the muscles and tendons between her ribs, but after a few weeks of treatment, again her health wasn’t getting any better. So finally, they decided to do a biopsy, and two weeks later, the results of the biopsy came back. It was stage 3 lung cancer.
Her lifestyle was almost free of risk. She never smoked a cigarette, she never drank alcohol, and she had been playing sports for almost half her life. Perhaps, that is why it took them almost six months to get her properly diagnosed.
My story might be, unfortunately, familiar to most of you. One out of three people sitting in this audience will be diagnosed with some type of cancer, and one out of four will die because of it. Not only did that cancer diagnosis change the life of our family, but that process of going back and forth with new tests, different doctors describing symptoms, discarding diseases over and over, was stressful and frustrating, especially for my aunt. And that is the way cancer diagnosis has been done since the beginning of history. We have 21st-century medical treatments and drugs to treat cancer, but we still have 20th-century procedures and processes for diagnosis, if any.
Today, most of us have to wait for symptoms to indicate that something is wrong. Today, the majority of people still don’t have access to early cancer detection methods, even though we know that catching cancer early is basically the closest thing we have to a silver bullet cure against it. We know that we can change this in our lifetime, and that is why my team and I have decided to begin this journey, this journey to try to make cancer detection at the early stages and monitoring the appropriate response at the molecular level easier, cheaper, smarter and more accessible than ever before.