When most people think of cancer screening chances are likely the imagine being middle-aged and going in for a mamogram or a prostate exam in the aim of detecting common cancers like breast or prostate early, thus increasing rates of survival. Not all cancers, however, can be detected with those screenings and many young people don’t get those screenings anyway, young people who have worse outcomes when they do develop cancer than do older adults. With the tests for most cancers being expensive, painful, and invasive many people don’t know that they have cancer until something has gone wrong and by then it is often too late: the cancer has a foothold.
What if you could test for and diagnose countless forms of cancer with a simple blood test? That is exactly what a new startup, Microculus, is aiming to do with their device they call Miriam. One blood test, the ability to test for dozens of cancers in a low-cost, open source device that even untrained clinic workers could use. The device, debuted at TEDGlobal last week in Rio De Janeiro, bases its technology on microRNA. The microRNA molecules appear and disappear based on what the current situation in the body. Initially it was believed that the molecules could only be detected inside cells, but in 2008 researchers found microRNA in blood making testing and detection easier. It also dangled the idea that a blood test might be able to utilize microRNA to detect illnesses, the idea that the Miriam is based on.
The testing isn’t foolproof. Simple things like taking medication or having minor infections can impact the expression of microRNA in blood. Without a large data set of the various kinds of microRNA and what they translate to the results the Miriam provides aren’t exact. To build that data, Microculus is launching the Miriam with pharmaceutical companies who plan to use the tool to track patient reactions to drugs. The data from the drug reactions will help Microculus build up their microRNA database to eventually be able to tweak the tool to test for diseases such as cancer.