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Early Detection of Cancer


We all live in the shadow of cancer; it is the deepest fear for ourselves and our loved ones.  Most types of cancer do not cause any symptoms until a late stage where the disease is often incurable, but the chances of a cure are greatly improved if caught early.  The Pointsman Foundation is developing two new tests for cancer: quantum-limited detection of atomic isotope ratios and a quantum-limited electronic nose. When these diagnostics are ready to be incorporated into routine and low-cost tests, there will be a quantum leap in the quest for a cure.

Quantum-Limited Detection of Isotope Ratios

Atoms are the building blocks of all materials, comprising the periodic table of elements.  There are several naturally occurring isotopes for most elements which differ from each other by the number of neutrons in the nucleus. While the physical and chemical properties of isotopes are nearly the same, small variations in isotopic composition can occur in our bodies due to changes in metabolism.  These variations in blood and urine samples were found to be strongly correlated to cancer, a remarkable discovery.  For example, calcium isotope ratios are a diagnostic for multiple myeloma and zinc isotope ratios are a sensitive indication of pancreatic cancer.  We invented new approaches to turn this method into a powerful diagnostic.  These include rapid sample preparation combined with ultra-sensitive atomic and laser physics methods of detection.  The large economy of scale should make these diagnostics affordable and widely available.

Quantum-Limited Electronic Nose

First described by Hippocrates in ancient Greece, doctors used their sense of smell to diagnose disease.  Medicine has advanced greatly over the years and unfortunately no longer relies on smell, yet it could prove to be the ultimate method for early detection of cancer if sufficiently sensitive.  Dogs exhibit an exquisite sense of smell, and are thus employed to detect explosives, drugs, cancer, and most recently COVID-19.  Analytical tools have been developed over the years for trace molecule detection, but even the most advanced methods are far less sensitive than dogs.  We will combine recent advances in nanotechnology with laser molecular vibrational spectroscopy to detect volatile organic molecules near the quantum limit of sensitivity.  This method should be available as a home self-test or at the clinic, providing a new tool for early cancer detection.

Pointsman dogs Oliver Lill and Cosette Raizen

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