Scientists Develop Laser That Locates And Kills Cancer Cells

Researchers have developed a laser technology that finds and kills cancer cells in the blood. The laser is 1,000 times more sensitive than today’s methods in locating tumor cells in the blood and, unlike collecting blood samples, the newly developed method is noninvasive and promotes earlier detection.

According to a study published in the Science Translational Medicine journal, the laser technology dubbed as Cytophone uses pulses of laser light from the outside and heats up melanoma cells in the blood. These are unhealthy cells that carry the darker pigment melanin that absorbs light. Using an ultrasound technique, the laser detects tiny waves emitted by the heating of the cells.

The study analyzed 28 light-skinned patients who had melanoma and 19 healthy volunteers to test the technology’s effectiveness. Within 10 seconds to 60 minutes, the laser was able to identify circulating tumor cells in 27 of all participants. Upon review, the device did not return any false positives on the healthy volunteers and did not cause safety concerns or side effects. According to senior author and director of the nanomedicine center at the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences Vladimir Zharov, melanin is normally present in the skin, but the cells remain unharmed when the laser technique was administered.

The researchers also found that after the treatment, the cancer patients had fewer circulating tumor cells. Even if they used relatively low energy for the purpose of detecting cancer instead of treating it, the laser beam seemed to have destroyed cancer cells.

Zharov noted that the method can help prevent the spread of metastatic cancer. He added that they hope to advance their research to optimize the technology further by killing more tumor cells without harming the healthy ones. The researchers also plan on expanding the technology to detect and kill cancer cells other than melanoma. The proposed plan includes injecting the patients with markers or molecules that bind to the cancer cells for the laser to target them easily. They even suggested that it may work on human breast cancer cells in the lab.

According to Live Science, melanoma is a type of skin cancer that affects the pigment-producing cells called melanocytes, which are responsible for a person’s skin, hair and eye color.

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