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Social Innovation

Digital DNA and jet propulsion – the tech fighting cancer

From digital DNA to jet propulsion, technology is leading the way in the fight against cancer. Discover the ways tech is fighting back.

“Finding a cure for cancer” is a phrase embedded within our common lexicon.

It is one of society’s great challenges, with more than 8 million people dying and millions more being affected by the disease every year.

Today, as technology is being used to tackle life’s other challenges, the treatment of cancer also finds itself at the forefront of technological innovation.

1. Digital DNA sequencing

Treating cancer is hard because of the mutation process that can happen when you try to run a biopsy on the tissue sample of the tumour you are testing. A team of innovators are trying to cut that process out of the treatment phase: no biopsy, no mutation. When tumours grow and mutate, cancerous cells die, and scraps of these dead cells can be detected a liquid solution blood test. They are able to identify a fragment of mutated DNA out of a trillion others in a test-tube of blood – like finding the proverbial needle in a haystack. It is hoped that this innovative technology can help late-stage and early-stage patients, through to further prevention.


The leaders in space-technology and exploration are adept at taking on projects of some magnitude. Now the rocket scientists have turned their hands to searching for a cure for cancer. The International Space Station plays host to their out-of-this-world research into cancer treatments, with research into cancer cells conducted in microgravity to replicate how cancer cells operate in the body. Robotics research, such as the Image-Guided Autonomous Robot developed by NASA, now aids surgeons with autonomous software control capabilities and has the ability to carry-out dexterous and precise procedures on breast cancer patients.

3. ‘Proton-Beam therapy’

Hitachi has also been proactive in the drive to cure cancer, developing ‘Proton Beam Therapy’ and irradiation technology that is able to accurately target tumours that have a complex shape. In partnership with Hokkaido University, Hitachi developed a system which allows specific targeting of a tumour that moves due a patient’s breathing in treatment.

4. Intelligent Surgical Knife

The iKnife, an intelligent surgical knife, was created by a scientist at Imperial College in London, to vastly improve surgical accuracy. The iKnife works using an electrical current to heat tissue, making incisions with minimal blood-loss. Next, vaporised smoke, a by-product of the incision, is analysed by a spectrometer to detect chemicals, allowing real-time identification of malignant tissue. It is hoped that this smart knife will significantly reduce the time of operations in oncology. In the first study to test the knife, it was able to detect samples from 91 patients with 100% accuracy, providing information that usually takes up to 30 minutes for a laboratory test to reveal.