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A visit to the doctor may very well start to resemble a trip to the USS Enterprise‘s medical bay if a group of Stanford engineers’ new device has anything to do with it.

Future cancer-detecting gadgets might take the form of one of the most awesome devices in sci-fi history — the tricorder.

Via Mic, a group of Stanford electrical engineers are developing a “tricorder,” similar to Dr. McCoy’s, that will let doctors find internal problems “from a few inches away, doing away with invasive pricks and pokes.”

In the Stanford release, the researchers state that they discovered the cancer-detecting use for the new tricorder-like device out of research that was initially designed to detect buried plastic explosives.

Photo via YouTube/Stanford
Photo via YouTube/Stanford

“All materials expand and contract when stimulated with electromagnetic energy, such as light or microwaves. Second, this expansion and contraction produces ultrasound waves that travel to the surface and can be detected remotely,” the release states.

The engineers have built the device to literally “hear” hidden objects — whether it’s a buried IED, or a tumor in the body.

Calling it a type of “touchless ultrasound,” the Stanford tricorder can detect additional blood vessels that grow around tumors to nourish their growth. The blood vessels absorb heat differently than tissue, so the tumors show up on the tricorder as “hotspots.”

“We think we could develop instrumentation sufficiently sensitive to disclose the presence of tumors, and perhaps other health anomalies, much earlier than current detection systems, non-intrusively and with a handheld portable device,” assistant professor Amin Arbabian, who is co-leading the project, said in the statement.

They estimate it could take five to 15 years to make it to market. They also believe it will be less expensive than other detection methods — like MRIs and X-rays — and obviously much more portable.

 

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