Researchers Develop a Digital Health Wearable That Can Track Tumor Size

Researchers from Stanford, USC, Georgia Tech, and the University of Tokyo have developed a battery-powered digital health wearable that attaches to the skin and can measure tumor size continuously and in real time, offering hope for advancements in both cancer research and treatment.

Researchers have developed a wearable digital health sensors that can track the size of a tumor, a vital factor in determining the effectiveness of cancer drugs.

The Flexible Autonomous Sensor measuring Tumors (FAST) device, a battery-powered patch that adheres to the skin, measures the strain on the membrane surrounding the tumor in real-time and transmits the data to a smartphone app. It has the potential to replace the traditional method of tracking tumors via caliper and bioluminescence, allowing care providers to understand a drug’s effectiveness in days instead of weeks.

“This work is a prime example of how wearable electronics can further precision health technologies — we can monitor the growth of a tumor with tens of micron resolution using just a sensor and a cell phone app,” Yasser Khan, an assistant professor of electrical and computer engineering at the University of Southern California, said in a press release. “We can observe the progression 24/7, unlike any of the existing imaging techniques, and precisely tell if a drug is working on not in treating the tumor.”

Researchers from Stanford University, USC’s Viterbi School of Engineering, Georgia Tech, and the University of Tokyo teamed up to develop the wearable, which could significantly improve cancer research and treatment.

“It is a deceptively simple design,” Alex Abramson, an assistant professor of chemical and biomolecular engineering at Georgia Tech and first author of the study, said in the press release. “But these inherent advantages should be very interesting to the pharmaceutical and oncological communities. FAST could significantly expedite, automate and lower the cost of the process of screening cancer therapies.”

Armed with newer, more refined technology, researchers across the globe have been developing digital health wearables for clinical treatment and research. Some have redesigned commercial smartwatches and fitness bands or added technology, while others have worked with smartglasses, jewelry, hearing aids, and clothing. Still others are developing ingestibles, bandages, patches, and tattoos that can track and gather data from the body and transmit that information through digital health apps to care teams or researchers.

In this case, researchers say the FAST device has three advantages over traditional care:

  1. It provides continuous, real-time monitoring;
  2. The sensor attached to the patch is sensitive to one-hundredth of a millimeter, enabling researchers to track miniscule changes to a tumor that might not be detected by other methods; and
  3. The device is non-invasive, attaching to the skin like a bandage, and reusable.

Eric Wicklund is the Innovation and Technology Editor for HealthLeaders.

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