UNT students build smartphone app capable of detecting cancer

Tuesday, April 5, 2016 - 19:26
UNT TAMS students Kevin Ong (left) and Anagha Krishnan (right) have developed a smartphone app capable of detecting cancer.
UNT TAMS students Kevin Ong (left) and Anagha Krishnan (right) have developed a smartphone app capable of detecting cancer.

DENTON (UNT), Texas -- Students in the Texas Academy of Mathematics and Science at the University of North Texas are working on a smart phone app that may soon allow users to detect cancer and identify different stages of cancer.

Anagha Krishnan and Kevin Ong, second-year students in UNT's TAMS program, are developing a phone application that processes chemical data from saliva samples to identify tumor biomarkers in the body. The app is still in development, and the students have received funding from MIT to advance their work.

"When someone has cancer, the cells in their body release nitric oxide and other biomarkers as a by-product of immune response and cellular stress, and these biomarkers are excreted from the body in the saliva." Ong said. "We created a chemical that reacts with these salivary biomarkers to produce a light-emitting reaction. By measuring the brightness of this reaction, we are able to calculate the concentration of these biomarkers, which in turn, helps us pre-diagnose and stage cancer."

The technology may also be able to identify cancers without traditional biomarkers, such as breast or colon cancer, which currently require expensive and invasive procedures to identify.

"This research will result in a mobile-phone based lab-on-a-chip diagnostic technology using nano-photonic bio-markers that can be used for early cancer detection," said Arup Neogi, professor of physics at UNT, who mentors Krishnan.

Ong and Krishnan recently were named national finalists in MIT's THINK Scholars Program, and received $1,000 to complete their work and bring the app to market.

"This funding will help us finish chemical testing, begin app development and human testing and eventually make this technology available to the public," Krishnan said.

About TAMS

UNT's Texas Academy of Mathematics and Science is the nation's first accelerated residential program for gifted high schoolers, allowing them to come to UNT to start their first two years of college early. Mentored by faculty at UNT, TAMS students tackle complex, real-world problems, working on solutions and breakthroughs in fields ranging from healthcare to energy consumption. TAMS is an important pipeline for STEM education, nurturing the next generation of innovators, and the program is one of the many ways UNT advances science, engineering and technology.

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