Photo/IllutrationNew technology that Toshiba has developed to detect cancer through a single drop of blood (Provided by Toshiba Corp.)

  • Photo/Illustraion

Researchers are hoping to improve the early detection of cancer through a newly developed device that can detect 13 types from just a single drop of blood.

Toshiba Corp. on Nov. 25 announced that the company has developed the technology to screen for cancer within two hours with a 99-percent accuracy rate.

The company will start conducting a demonstration experiment next year, aiming to put the technology into practical use within several years.

The researchers hope to make the test affordable--less than 20,000 yen ($183)--and available as an option in a complete medical examination and other screenings.

However, there is a catch: the technology cannot determine which of the 13 cancer types a patient is stricken with.

In a diagnostic test that can detect the presence of cancer, the amount of a few nanometers of microRNA, a component circulating in the blood, plays a key role.

There are about 2,500 type of microRNA. Since it is known that the amount of some of these microRNA produced in cancer cells differs from what is produced in healthy cells, researchers have hoped to use the difference for cancer screenings.

Existing cancer screenings such as X-ray diagnosis and examination using an endoscope depend on visual judgments, which make it difficult to detect small tumors and “stage zero” cancer.

The new technology has made such screening and detection possible for 13 types of cancers including lung, stomach and bowel cancers, with a high degree of accuracy, Toshiba said.

The new testing is also a time and cost saver because there is no need for people to take a different test for another type of cancer.

The next step required toward the practical implementation of the technology is to maintain the high accuracy rate during experiments using more specimens.

“Much hope is being placed on the practical use of the technology,” said Tomio Nakayama, chief of the Division of Screening Assessment and Management at the National Cancer Center Japan. “But there have been countless research examples struggling to control the costs and establish methods of screening. A crucial test lies ahead for the (researchers)."

Toray Industries Inc. has also conducted research on cancer screening tests using microRNA. It has used a method different from Toshiba to detect microRNA, and the technology can only detect pancreatic cancer and biliary tract cancer, the company said.

Toshiba in recent years faced a financial crisis due to an accounting fraud scandal and was forced to sell off its medical equipment unit.

With new technologies including the cancer screening using microRNA, Toshiba hopes to enter a new business in the “precision medicine” field to expand its revenue stream.