According to the statistics of the World Cancer Day 2013 7.6 million of the world population dies every year because of cancer. This is equal to the population of Switzerland.
Today cancers are diagnosed through expensive and invasive methods that restrict people from getting preventive controls. This translates into a late detection of the cancer despite the appearance of the symptoms. Jorge Soto, co-founder of the start up Miroculus, witnessed a case in his family: despite a healthy life style, his aunt incurred back pain and other symptoms and after 6 months was diagnosed with a stage 3 lung cancer. Jorge Soto and the Miroculus team realized that this phenomenon has a significant cost for humanity as an early detection could save many lives.
Having converged the science and the knowledge already available concerning cancer, the team developed a technology called “Miriam”. “Miriam” is based on the study of microRNA, a small non-coding RNA molecule whose role is to control when and how many proteins should be produced. Their main characteristic is that they change as the internal conditions do: when a cancer evolves a protein modification is observed in our cells, leading to a change in our microRNA combination.
Building on the rocket science that RNA can be extracted from blood samples, the team devised a patented plate composed by 96 wells. Each well contains a reactor that acts like a trap when it encounters a microRNA related to a specific cancer. The plate is then inserted in a 3D printer device and the reaction begins: if a microRNA combination is present, the well will start glowing. The smartphone attached to the device sends the results to an online cloud, which compares the time of reaction and the intensity of the luminosity of each well to a database of information. The results are then communicated in real time.
“Miriam” is still a prototype but it has already been tested for particular types of cancers. One of the obstacles it faces is the “vulnerability” of microRNAs as they can change even as a consequence of a respiratory infection; the composition of the reagents must reach 100% accuracy in order to indicate just and only the presence of a cancer. Also, “we’re talking about a decentralized system; the main challenge is to make it robust enough so it can be done by an untrained person anywhere in the world in not-so-optimal laboratory conditions.” (Christodoulou, CSO of Miroculus).
The entire process requires 60 minutes and costs 50 times less than the current cancer detection methods. The company has made public the design of the 3D printer device, which means that its revenue will only depend on the sale of the patented well plate. As soon as “Miriam” is fully functional, cancer detection will be democratised.