Using a laser to find cancer cells could change the way cancer is detected. It would be much faster than waiting for biopsy results.
Plus, there’s no getting around the fact that looks can be deceiving: the technique used today depends on how cells appear. It’s purely subjective - it’s up to the pathologist to see if anything looks unusual.
That’s why researchers are interested in the molecular structure of cancer cells. It’s so much more revealing.
The technique is called nonlinear interferometric vibrational imaging (NIVI).
The researchers at the University of Illinois tested the laser light on rat breast-cancer cells and tissues. The tissue was color coded: red for cancer and blue for normal cells.
The laser light was accurate and it just took five minutes. The technique doesn’t look at the cells and structure of the tissue, but instead it looks at the cells’ molecular composition. Cancerous cells tend to produce more protein, according to the researchers. The normal cells have more lipids.
“The analogy is like pushing someone on a swing. If you push at the right time point, the person on the swing will go higher and higher. If you don’t push at the right point in the swing, the person stops,” Illinois Stephen Boppart said in a statement. “If we use the right optical frequencies to excite these vibrational states, we can enhance the resonance and the signal.”
The laser light was also good at defining the boundaries of the tumor.
The researchers want to expand the delivery system so it could be used in needles and probes to test tissues without being invasive.
“Once you get to that point, we think it will have many different applications for cancer diagnostics, for optical biopsies and other types of diagnostics,” Boppart added.