At last–Something other than bad news about cell phones: An "app" on your iphone can diagnose whether or not you have cancer and is 100% accurate! In Japan, where almost everyone owns a sophisticated phone, this could be a big relief for people who have been exposed to radiation from the power plant meltdown. And the Chinese may have found a medicine to cure this dread disease.

Some Chinese medicines are helpful, but most are bogus and even dangerous, leading to the near-extinction of whole species of exotic animals. Now researchers have discovered that a natural product made from a traditional Chinese medicinal plant known as thunder god vine, or lei gong teng, and used for hundreds of years to treat many conditions including rheumatoid arthritis, could be a starting point for developing new anticancer drugs. Researcher Jun O. Liu says, "We’ve known that it stops cell growth since 1972, but only now have we figured out what it does." The active ingredient in the plant has been shown to block the growth of cancer cell lines in labs at very low doses, and even causes some of those cell lines to die.

This discovery may end up being more important for China, where one in every 5 adults is a heavy smoker, than it is here. China is secretive about its health statistics, but it is certain that there will be–or probably already is–a huge epidemic of lung cancer in that country. The cell phone app takes just an hour to tell if a tumor is benign or malignant, so patients don’t have to spend anxious days waiting for conventional test results, which are only 84% accurate and which involve using chemicals that stain cancerous cells and show up under a microscope. It could also make it easier for doctors to track how well anti-cancer drugs are working. Another bonus: Much less tissue is needed, making the biopsy less onerous.

The device consists of a smartphone connected to a miniature MRI machine. The hand-held MRI machine magnet excites the molecules in the sample, causing them to vibrate. The more the molecules vibrate, the more likely the sample is cancerous, and the iphone computes the likelihood of this and give a read out to the doctor or lab tech. In the February 25th edition of the Daily Mail, Fiona Macrae quotes researcher Cesar Castro as saying, "We must emphasize that this is a quantitative readout with no room for subjectivity or manipulation by whoever is processing. This is important–whether the results are generated in Boston, London, or Lima the data remains the data." In other words, the chance of error is eliminated.

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