Science Scope

A flashlight that detects cancer

Posting in Cancer

Scientists have come up with a new way of diagnosing cancer: flashing light on cells to see if they are abnormal.

The way we diagnose cancer nowadays is usually pretty invasive.

It usually starts with biopsies, which remove tissue samples that can be sent out to a lab and checked for abnormalities.

Although they are necessary, these biopsies can also some harm to the body, including disfiguring it.

However, Duke University researchers have now developed a way to detect cell abnormalities with a flashlight.

Okay, so it's not a flashlight like the one pictured here.

Instead, it's like a thin wand (often flexible) with a light on the end, similar to an endoscope, which can snake into a person's organs, such as into their gastrointestinal tract to see the stomach.

The cancer-spotting version can emit short bursts of light that will show the inside of a cell, exposing whether the nuclei look precancerous, meaning whether they look deformed or are larger than the nuclei of healthy cells.

And it does all this without removing or dyeing any tissue.

So far, the Duke researchers have tested their invention in the esophagus and colon (from a small sample size, it has 85% accuracy).

The authors published their results in the Journal of Biomedical Optics.

Researcher Dr. Christopher Mantyh, colorectal surgeon at the Duke University Medical Center, told University World News:

This approach could be the future of diagnosing [precancerous cells] of the colon. The old-fashioned techniques we use haven't changed in years. This could be a real game-changer in how we detect, characterize and even treat pre-cancerous or cancerous lesions. For some gastrointestinal biopsies, the procedure itself has inherent risks such as bleeding or perforation, so a non-invasive technique could greatly improve a patient's quality of life.

photo: Nordelch/Wikimedia

via: The Atlantic

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Laura Shin

Features Editor

Laura Shin has been published in The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal and The Los Angeles Times, and is currently a contributor at Forbes. Previously, she worked at Newsweek, the New York Times, Wall Street Journal and LearnVest. She holds degrees from Stanford University and Columbia University's Graduate School of Journalism. Follow her on Twitter. Disclosure