In 2010, Ethel Cesarman, a pathologist at New York City’s Weill Cornell Medical Center, was working with scientists running clinical trials on Kaposi sarcoma (KS), a cancer of the connective tissue characterized by bluish-red or purple bumps on the skin.
In the Western world, KS affects mostly older men of Mediterranean heritage. In Africa, though, it’s common in young adults and children, and has a high mortality rate in people under 40. It also often occurs as a side effect of AIDS. “In Africa it’s a big problem,” says Cesarman, who had been a part of the team that in the mid-1990s discovered that KS, originally identified by dermatologist Moritz Kaposi over a century ago, is caused by a human herpesvirus. “For some reason, KS is endemic in Africa.”
With early diagnosis and treatment, the cancer’s progress can be significantly slowed. The technique used to detect viruses responsible for the cancer in biopsy samples employs a thermal process called the polymerase chain reaction (PCR), which is expensive and requires complex equipment.
But in Africa, medical centers don’t have the necessary machinery to diagnose the disease. So Cesarman decided the test was due for a redesign, and sought help from cornelluniversity engineers to create something cheap and easy to use. “I realized it’s very hard to diagnose KS in Africa because they don’t have the right tools and resources,” Cesarman recalls. “So I contacted Dr. Erickson, who had all sorts of fascinating new technologies in his lab.”
Engineers have demonstrated an inexpensive handheld device that can analyze up to 170,000 different molecules in a blood sample. The stapler-sized unit might one day make a doctor’s office checkup a thing of the past.
Measuring minute changes in the intensity of light flashed through a sample, the optical lab-on-a-chip could simultaneously investigate levels of insulin in the blood, viruses and disease markers that indicate cancer or other problems.
"We were looking to build an interface similar to a car’s dashboard, which is able to indicate gas and oil levels as well as let you know if your headlights are on or if your engine is working correctly," said Hatice Altug, an associate engineering professor at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Lausanne and Boston University, in a statement.
The second most popular beverage in the world, after water, is believed to be tea.
There are different kinds of tea, but green tea carries with it a slew of promised health benefits. And now, scientists have made a new discovery within a simple cup of green tea.