Converting stem cell data into sounds could enable GPs to make instant, non-invasive cancer diagnoses during a routine check-up according to a new study into data sonification.

Data sonification involves data being conveyed as audio signals as opposed to visual illustrations such as graphs and can improve standard techniques currently used in spectroscopy stem cell analysis.

The authors of the new study from between  pan-European research and education network GEANT, Birmingham City University and the University of Central Lancashire suggest that the findings could "significantly reduce the agonising and potentially life-threatening wait for patients and improve Government waiting time targets".

Watch GEANT's explanation of data sonification at  

Ryan Stables, a researcher for the School of Digital Media Technology in Birmingham who lead the study said: "This method of identifying cancerous cells is similar to that of using a metal detector.

"It allows you to identify the characteristics of cancer in real-time, which we hope could have life-changing implications for patients through the development of better diagnostic tools. We are now looking at using different types of data and are hopeful the research could be used for treating other physical diseases, not just cancer."

The preliminary study was launched at the recent 20th International Conference on Auditory Displayand showed that by listening to data in a patient’s body via an audio diagnostic tool or probe, a surgeon is more likely to spot remaining cancerous cells than by visual inspection alone. This provides another layer of assistance and leaves the surgeon’s eyes free to focus on the operation. This is likely to reduce surgery time and improve the probability of all cancerous tissue being removed.

Domenico Vicinanza, Product Manager at GÉANT added: "This study is a great opportunity to assist a potentially life-enhancing project addressing one of society’s biggest challenges.

"From a practical point of view, listening to a single sound for a prolonged period of time can be pretty hard on the ears, so I was keen to ensure the sounds were bearable and perceptually interesting."