The FAST Backpack Is a Tumor-Measuring Wearable Designed for Low-Cost, Continuous Monitoring

Designed to monitor tumors during cancer therapy trials, this compact sensor requires no prodding and poking to gather data.

A team of engineers at the Georgia Institute of Technology and Stanford University have developed a wearable gadget designed to provide long-term monitoring of tumor size in cancer patients, sensitive down to 10 micrometers and able to send results wirelessly via smartphone.

“In some cases, the tumors under observation must be measured by hand with calipers," first author Alex Abramson explains of the team's work. Using calipers, though, isn't ideal: it's uncomfortable, requires an expert operator, and provides only point-in-time measurements. Radiologic monitoring, meanwhile, provides better data but can't be used for continuous measurement — which is where FAST, the Flexible Autonomous Sensor for measuring Tumors, comes in.

Built using a polymer-based sensor with embedded gold circuitry, the FAST device sits above a tumor site and measures strain on the skin through minute cracks in the gold layer altering the detectable resistance. This data is captured using a "backpack" in a 3D-printed housing, which includes a radio for transmission to a nearby smartphone. While the sensor and backpack are designed to flex against the user's skin, the communication PCB is built using traditional rigid methods — but does not, its creators claim, interfere with conforming the sensor to the site being monitored.

The FAST device boasts a number of improvements over traditional monitoring techniques, its creators claim, not least of which is the ability to provide high levels of detail during continuous monitoring. It's non-invasive, reusable, entirely wireless, and costs just $60 per sensor to build.

"It is a deceptively simple design,” Abramson claims, "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."

"This sensor's ability to continuously, autonomously, and accurately record tumor volume regression suggests that this method could supplant current tumor regression measurement techniques used during in vivo preclinical trials," the team concludes, following testing in a murine model, "unlocking new avenues for high-throughput in vivo drug discovery screenings and basic cancer research that takes advantage of the sensor’s time-dependent datasets."

The team's work has been published in the journal Science Advances under open-access terms.

Gareth Halfacree
Freelance journalist, technical author, hacker, tinkerer, erstwhile sysadmin. For hire: freelance@halfacree.co.uk.
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