The lengthy wait for a cancer diagnosis can be one of the most stressful periods of the illness. But what if you could diagnose yourself, without the need for a doctor, in an instant, with a smartphone camera? That's what researchers at the University of Queensland in Australia are hoping to make possible, with the mantis shrimp acting as the team's unlikely inspiration.
The way that mantis shrimp see the world is completely different to humans. Their compound eyes make them incredibly good at seeing polarised light -- which reflects in a different, identifiable way off cancerous cells compared to healthy tissue. Whereas humans use contrasts in colours and hues to identify between objects in the world, creatures like the mantis shrimp hunt their prey using this polarised light technique.
While non-invasive cancer-spotting devices using polarised light already exist, they are big and expensive systems. The University of Queensland researchers have already begun work on far smaller, cheaper alternatives, which with further development could easily be stuck into a smartphone. And they work -- early prototypes have been able to spot cancerous cells in the brains of mice, visualising what would otherwise be invisible to the naked human eye. If successfully developed, the systems could significantly reduce hospital waiting times, and ease the worries of those twiddling their thumbs waiting for test results. With Apple and the rest of the mobile industry increasingly looking at the healthcare sector as the next significant mobile boom area, the researchers will likely have plenty of open ears ready to see the system come to fruition. [University of Queensland]