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Mantis Shrimp Inspire Cancer-Detecting Sensors

by / September 30, 2014

In Australia, researchers are designing new cameras equipped with sensors that can detect a variety of cancers and visualize brain activity -- and they're inspired by the compound eyes of the mantis shrimp, a rather aggressive marine crustacean that tends to be about a foot long. 

According to research from the University of Queensland, the shrimp’s compound eyes are "superbly tuned to detect polarized light," which provides "a streamlined framework for technology to mimic." And Professor Justin Marshall from the Queensland Brain Institute at UQ said that cancerous tissue reflects polarized light differently than surrounding healthy tissue does.

“Humans can’t see this, but a mantis shrimp could walk up to it and hit it,” he said in a press release. “We see color with hues and shades, and objects that contrast – a red apple in a green tree for example – but our research is revealing a number of animals that use polarized light to detect and discriminate between objects."

The camera that Marshall and his fellow scientists, along with scientists in the U.S. and U.K., have developed shoots video, and could provide immediate feedback on detecting cancer and monitoring exposed nerve cell activity. 

“It converts the invisible messages into colors that our visual system is comfortable with,” Marshall said, adding that current scopes and imaging systems used polarized light to detect cancer, but the shrimp-inspired technology aims to improve and widen these detection methods, reducing the need for biopsies and guiding surgical procedures.

Theoretically, Marshall said, the research could lead to the redesign of smartphone cameras, allowing people to self-monitor for cancers and reduce the burden on health systems.