An engineering researcher and a global health expert from
Michigan State University
are working on bringing a low-cost, handheld device to nations with limited
resources to help physicians detect and diagnose cancer.
Syed Hashsham, a professor of civil and environmental
engineering at MSU, is developing the Gene-Z device, which is operated using an
iPod Touch or Android-based tablet and performs genetic analysis on microRNAs
and other genetic markers. MicroRNAs are single-stranded molecules that regulate
genes; changes in certain microRNAs have been linked to cancer and other
He is working with Reza Nassiri, director of MSU’s Institute of International
Health and an assistant dean in the College of Osteopathic
Medicine, on the medical capabilities for the
device and establishing connections with physicians worldwide.
Cancer is emerging as a leading cause of death in
underdeveloped and developing countries where resources for cancer screening
are almost non-existent, Nassiri says.
“Until now, little effort has been concentrated on
moving cancer detection to global health settings in resource-poor
countries,” he says. “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.”
Hashsham demonstrated the potential of the Gene-Z at the
National Institutes of Health’s first Cancer Detection and Diagnostics
“Gene-Z has the capability to screen for established
markers of cancer at extremely low costs in the field,” Hashsham says.
“Because it is a handheld device operated by a battery and chargeable by
solar energy, it is extremely useful in limited-resource settings.”
The NIH conference was attended by several U.S. research
institutions, including MSU. One of the primary objectives of the meeting was
to address the utility of new cancer detection technologies.
Since cancer diagnostics and rapid screening methods
currently are not suitable for low-income and resource-limited countries,
Nassiri says a concentrated effort should be made to develop more appropriate
and cost-effective technologies such as the one developed by Hashsham for
widespread global use.
Nassiri said the goal is to continue the partnership
between Hashsham and MSU’s Institute
of International Health
to promote his Gene-Z device globally and validate it in the field with
clinical care partners across the world.
In addition to cancer detection,
the Gene-Z device also is being developed to diagnose routine tuberculosis and
drug-resistant TB, determine HIV virus levels during treatment and monitor
overall antibiotic resistance.