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Cancer-detecting camera inspired by shrimp

Researchers at the University of Queensland in Australia have discovered that the compound eyes of mantis shrimp offer a potential framework for the design of new cameras that can detect a variety of cancers and visualise brain activity.

Professor Justin Marshall, from the Queensland Brain Institute at UQ, explained that the shrimp eyes are tuned to detect polarised light, and that cancerous tissue reflected polarised light differently to surrounding healthy tissue. While humans are unable to see this, mantis shrimps can, he said.

‘The camera that we’ve developed in close collaboration with US and UK scientists shoots video and could provide immediate feedback on detecting cancer and monitoring the activity of exposed nerve cells,’ Professor Marshall continued. ‘It converts the invisible messages into colours that our visual system is comfortable with.’

He added that the shrimp-inspired technology could broaden the use of non-invasive polarised light imaging systems and reduce the need for biopsies and guiding surgical procedures. Furthermore, Professor Marshall believes that, theoretically, the research could lead to the redesign of smartphone cameras, allowing people to monitor themselves for cancers.

Researchers including Dr Viktor Gruev from Washington University, and others from the Washington University School of Medicine, the University of Maryland Baltimore County and the University of Bristol are working with the Queensland Brain Institute to develop the technology. The Australian Research Council, the Asian Office of Aerospace Research and Development and the US Airforce Office of Scientific Research are funding the work.

‘The combined team is a good example of how interdisciplinary collaboration in science – between visual neuroscience, physics and electro-optical engineering – can provide really productive new approaches,’ Professor Marshall said.

The research, Bio-Inspired Polarization Imaging Sensors: From Circuits and Optics to Signal Processing Algorithms and Biomedical Applications, is published in IEEE.

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Further information:

Queensland Brain Institute at UQ


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