A Magic Wand That Detects Cancer: Michigan Researchers Hope Gene-Z Will Do It
Their objective is a low-cost way for poor countries to reduce cancer deaths
MSU engineering professor Syed Hashsham (right) talks with conference delegate about his diagnostic development project
Gene-Z, which has the potential to offer low-cost cancer detection technology to resource-poor countries.
Aug. 26, 2011 – How about this for a magic wand – it’s passed over your body and detects if you have cancer. Well, that’s
what two University of Michigan researchers hopes the Gene-Z will do. They are trying to develop the low-cost, hand-held device for nations
with limited resources to help physicians detect and diagnose cancer.
Syed Hashsham, a professor of civil and environmental engineering at MSU, is developing the Gene-Z device, which is
operated using an iPod Touch or Android-based tablet and performs genetic analysis on microRNAs and other genetic markers.
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MicroRNAs are single-stranded molecules that regulate genes; changes in certain microRNAs have been linked to cancer and
other health-related issues.
He is working with Reza Nassiri, director of MSU's Institute of International Health and an assistant dean in the College
of Osteopathic Medicine, on the medical capabilities for the device and establishing connections with physicians worldwide.
Cancer is increasing as a leading cause of death in underdeveloped and developing countries where resources for cancer
screening are almost non-existent, Nassiri said.
"Until now, little effort has been concentrated on moving cancer detection to global health settings in resource-poor
countries," he said.
"Early cancer detection in these countries may lead to affordable management of cancers with the aid of new screening and
diagnostic technologies that can overcome global health care disparities."
Hashsham demonstrated the potential of the Gene-Z at the National Institutes of Health's first Cancer Detection and
Diagnostics Conference. The conference, held recently in Bethesda, Md., was sponsored by the Fogarty International Center and the National
"Gene-Z has the capability to screen for established markers of cancer at extremely low costs in the field," Hashsham
said. "Because it is a hand-held device operated by a battery and chargeable by solar energy, it is extremely useful in limited-resource
The NIH conference was attended by several U.S. research institutions, including MSU. One of the primary objectives of
the meeting was to address the utility of new cancer detection technologies.
Since cancer diagnostics and rapid screening methods currently are not suitable for low-income and resource-limited
countries, Nassiri said a concentrated effort should be made to develop more appropriate and cost-effective technologies such as the one
developed by Hashsham for widespread global use.
Nassiri said the goal is to continue the partnership between Hashsham and MSU's Institute of International Health to
promote his Gene-Z device globally and validate it in the field with clinical care partners across the world.
In addition to cancer detection, the Gene-Z device also is being developed to diagnose routine tuberculosis and
drug-resistant TB, determine HIV virus levels during treatment and monitor overall antibiotic resistance.
Working with Hashsham in the development of the Gene-Z device was a team of MSU students, led by Robert Stedtfeld and
including Farhan Ahmad, Dieter Tourlousse and Greg Seyrig. The cancer marker approach was led by Maggie Kronlein, a civil and environmental
engineering undergraduate researcher.