Smart lasers can detect cancer, hazardous substances

Test for skin cancer without biopsies? Laser light can detect if it's cancer or not.
Written by Boonsri Dickinson, Contributing Editor on

One day, it might be possible for doctors to scan your mole with a laser, and then instantly know if it is something to worry about. Using smart lasers, researchers can identify if a person's skin shows signs of cancer or not.

Michigan State University researchers are using laser technology to deliver short pulses, and it is these pulses that can detect molecules in the tissue.

According to Popular Science:

Called the Verisante Aura, the device employs Raman spectroscopy to identify the molecular makeup of moles by changing the vibrational state of the molecular bonds in a skin growth. Shining a particular laser light on those bonds causes a shift in the kind of light that is reflected back to a sensor, and that shift belies exactly what kinds of molecules are there and in what concentration they exist.

The method is highly selective, and the laser light can excite certain compounds and reveal their unique vibrations. For instance, it can map cholesterol when lipid is around.

The researchers think the method could help pharmaceutical companies understand how a drug penetrates tissue. Seeing how drugs reacts with the skin would help bring drugs to market more quickly and reveal any possible side effects the drugs might have.

And the whole cancer detection process might benefit from these smart lasers as well. Now it's routine to cut a piece out the suspicious tissue, and then send the biopsy to a pathologist to look at the morphology. The laser method would be a noninvasive way of doing this, as the imaging method can detect subtle chemical differences.

Other images methods have historically required the use of fluorescent markers. But the researchers showed that it is possible to achieve a respectable level of contrast without the markers.

Michigan State chemist Marcos Dantus said in a statement:

Label-free molecular imaging has been the holy grail in medicine.

This method could change the way cancer is detected.

I recently wrote about a group at the University of Illinois, who is developing an imaging technique that uses laser tech to identify cancer cells. The hope is to use the real-time biopsy technique to find cancer cells quickly.

Dantus, again:

The ability to image with molecular specificity and sensitivity opens a number of applications in medicine as well as in homeland security.

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