Detecting cancer is a difficult business. Some types of cancer can be found through simple blood tests, but many require expensive procedures that, as in the case of CT scans and mammograms, cause problems down the line.
A startup called Miroculus thinks it has the simple early detection platform that could offer an alternative: a cheap, open-source device that can test blood for several types of cancer at once.
At this months’s TEDGlobal conference, Miroculus CTO Jorge Soto demonstrated the platform for the first time. The platform, dubbed Miriam, finds cancer by extracting RNA from blood, and spreading it across plates that look for specific types of microRNA (molecules that can indicate disease). Once it’s hooked up to a smartphone, Miriam sends the information to an online database and compares the microRNA found in the patient’s blood to known patterns that indicate different types of cancer. The process takes an hour.
Miriam can currently detect lung, breast, and pancreatic cancer at the earliest stages. Eventually, it will be able to detect many more.
Miroculus’s platform will undoubtedly be useful in diagnosing early-stage cancers that would otherwise be missed until they reached stage 3 or 4. But it could have a secondary effect–reducing other unnecessary cancer screenings–that’s just as important.
Mammograms, for example, slightly increase the risk of cancer. For women under 40, that risk is significant. Younger women who get mammograms often do so because they are genetically at risk for breast cancer, leading to a catch-22: according to one recent study, the diagnostic use of radiation for BRCA1 and BRCA2 carriers under age 30 increases breast cancer risk by 90%. If those patients opted to get a simple blood test, that extra risk would disappear.
No word yet on when Miriam will available for commercial use.