September 21st, 2018

To Your Health: The future of self-diagnosis

By Gillian Slade on November 6, 2017.

There may soon be an ultrasound device just like a smart phone that you could use yourself to make a diagnosis — potentially even diagnose cancer.

A U.S. company called Butterfly Network designed the device and one of the physicians working on the project says it helped him detect a malignant tumour he had.

Dr John Martin, 59, the chief medical officer for the company and a vascular surgeon, noticed a lump in his throat. By using his iPhone with the ultrasound device, during a testing phase, he discovered that he had stage four cancer.

The test results that appeared on his phone very quickly indicated he had metastatic cancer. A physician for more than 40 years, the test results did not look good and after he consulted with a technician on site he headed home.

The cancer appeared to have started in his tongue and throat before spreading to his neck. He subsequently underwent surgery and radiation to treat it and is now optimistic about his future.

The ultrasound equipment is called Butterfly iQ and is still being tested for clearance by the FDA in the U.S.

Butterfly Network founder Jonathan Rothberg was impressed with the speed of Martin’s diagnosis and has told media this sort of thing was what he’d had in mind all along as his goal in developing the technology.

There are plans for clinical trials of the product in 2018. This will include doctors providing the devices to high risk patients who would likely benefit from being able to have an ultrasound immediately.

The technology could make ultrasounds much more accessible, particularly in rural areas where having to travel to another location for service could be avoided. In remote parts of the world this accessible technology could be a game changer in health care.

It is not known when this technology will become widely available nor how long it will take for the FDA in the U.S. to give approval.

What is encouraging is that the size of equipment required for medical tests appears to be getting much smaller and potentially more readily available to patients, hopefully at less cost to the health-care system too.

Here’s to diagnostic tests that can identify disease in the early stages and here’s To Your Health.

To Your Health is a weekly column by Gillian Slade, health reporter for the News, bringing you news on health issues and research from around the world. You can reach her by email or call 403-528-8635.

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