Skip to main content
Move the World.

Mammograms are the best way to screen for breast cancer, but they're also famously unpleasant and unreliable. Many women go through unnecessary surgery to remove benign lumps, and mammograms can also miss deep tumors. But a new pill promises to revolutionize diagnosis by making cancerous cells light up under infrared scans, hopefully eliminating false positives and catching hidden tumors.

False Positives: Annual mammograms are recommended by health authorities to catch breast cancer early—which they totally do. Unfortunately, along with catching more cancers, they also catch more benign growths and other abnormalities that aren't serious health risks. A study in Denmark last year found that as many as a third of women who got surgery or chemo to remove breast cancer turned out to have benign or non-life-threatening tumors. But doctors can't easily tell the difference on x-rays, so patients often err on the side of caution, choosing drastic treatments over the risks of waiting.

Making Cancer Glow: Scientists at the University of Michigan have developed a much more precise tool to both find tumors and detect benign growths. Their pill delivers a dye that tags a molecule found on cancer cells, and then lights up under an infrared scan. Doctors can fine tune what molecules get stained to distinguish between aggressive cancers and benign lumps. The best part is that infrared scans can actually go deeper than mammograms, finding tumors in dense tissue that normal screening would miss, and they don't use potentially harmful X-rays.

A Failed Drug Saves the Day: Making the dye work as a pill was important, not only because people hate needles but also because some people are allergic to IV dyes. Getting a dye from the stomach to the organs is tricky, but U-M researchers found an old, failed cancer drug that could do exactly that. The drug didn't work to stop cancer, but it could get molecules through the stomach, past the liver, into the blood and onto the tumor. When scientists gave the pills to mice with cancer and then scanned them, they saw the tumors light up.

Bottom Line: If it continues to work in humans, it will be a real breakthrough: a less painful, more accurate, and safer way to screen for breast cancer. Since half of women aren't getting mammograms now, a diagnosis that promises fewer false positives and a more comfortable test could significantly improve overall screening, while cutting down on scary and unnecessary treatments.

Up Next

Global Impact
Uganda Begins Massive New Ebola Vaccine Study
Uganda Begins Massive New Ebola Vaccine Study
Global Impact
Uganda Begins Massive New Ebola Vaccine Study
The Ebola outbreak in the Congo is now the second deadliest on record. How can we stop the devastation? A study in Uganda could hold the key for a new vaccine.

The Ebola outbreak in the Democratic Republic of the Congo is now the second deadliest on record. The epicenter is in North Kivu, a conflict-torn province which shares borders with Rwanda and Uganda. Ugandan Ebola cases were the first to cross borders from the current Congo outbreak. Now, a new trial study in Uganda could hold the key to stopping the spread of this devastating disease.

Superhuman
Advanced Prosthetics Are Not Only Powerful, They’re Beautiful
Advanced Prosthetics Are Not Only Powerful, They’re Beautiful
Superhuman
Advanced Prosthetics Are Not Only Powerful, They’re Beautiful
"There's a deep, deep relationship between the functionality of the device and a person's identity of what their body is."

Before he was director of the Human Engineering Research Laboratories, Rory Cooper was customizing his own wheelchairs for racing. His racer was lighter than traditional chairs, optimized for racing on the road, but many of its modifications have since become commonplace in wheelchairs designed for everyday use. Cooper's chair demonstrated the importance of performance and functionality, ensuring that the user's quality of...

Superhuman
Reprogramming Your Immune System to Fight Cancer
Reprogramming Your Immune System to Fight Cancer
Watch Now
Superhuman
Reprogramming Your Immune System to Fight Cancer
Your T cells already know how to kill cancer. These doctors can train them to hunt it down.
Watch Now

Josh Feldman was on his honeymoon when he felt a lump on his neck. Returning home after the best month of his life, his doctor gave him the news: non-Hodgkin's lymphoma. There was no cure, and it was about to get much worse. After multiple rounds of chemotherapy failed to stop his tumors from growing, Josh went to see Dr. John Timmerman, an oncologist at UCLA who is trying something different, known as immunotherapy. This...

Superhuman
Helping Kids Walk With Wearable Robots
Helping Kids Walk With Wearable Robots
Watch Now
Superhuman
Helping Kids Walk With Wearable Robots
Exoskeletons aren't just science fiction anymore. Wearable robots are helping kids with cerebral palsy walk.
Watch Now

Cerebral palsy (CP) is the most common movement disorder in children, and nearly half of kids with CP can't walk own their own. As bones grow and muscles set incorrectly, walking becomes progressively more difficult. Extensive and repeated surgeries are often required to provide relief, but they can't solve the underlying problem. Now, engineers in the Biomechatronics Lab at Northern Arizona University are hoping that...

Can Sleep Deprivation Cure Depression?
Can Sleep Deprivation Cure Depression?
Watch Now
Can Sleep Deprivation Cure Depression?
Losing sleep can have a lot of adverse health effects, but recent science shows it could also have a surprising upside
Watch Now

Studies show that loss of sleep can lead to memory loss, compromised immunity, weight gain, and mood swings. However, scientists are now finding that sleep deprivation may be used to treat depression. Losing sleep has the opposite effect on those struggling with depression. It restores the circadian rhythm that is usually flat in depressed people and it helps balance the parts of the brain that regulate mood. Unfortunately,...

Is This the End of Language Barriers?
Is This the End of Language Barriers?
Watch Now
Is This the End of Language Barriers?
What if you could travel anywhere in the world and there was no language barrier?
Watch Now

Real-time translation seeks to break down all language barriers in the world. Several tech companies believe they are on the verge of making this a reality through new devices such as Google's Pixel Bud headphones, which can translate up to 40 languages in one to two seconds. While the technology is still a work in progress, Google and others hope it might not be long before such technologies can help connect the world...

Coded
Meet the Digital Bodyguard for Investigative Journalists
Meet the Digital Bodyguard for Investigative Journalists
Coded
Meet the Digital Bodyguard for Investigative Journalists
Smári McCarthy discusses his job protecting the work of journalists investigating organized crime and corruption
By Mike Riggs

Smári McCarthy discusses his job protecting the work of journalists investigating organized crime and corruption

Coded
It’s Time for Regular Americans to Think Differently About Cybersecurity
It’s Time for Regular Americans to Think Differently About Cybersecurity
Coded
It’s Time for Regular Americans to Think Differently About Cybersecurity
If huge companies and government agencies can't manage the cyber threats, how can ordinary Americans?
By James Poulos

If huge companies and government agencies can't manage the cyber threats, how can ordinary Americans?