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  • Smart lasers for painless cancer biopsies

Apr 2011
Compiled by BioPhotonics staff

EAST LANSING, Mich. – Rather than cutting slivers of skin to send to a lab for testing, a development in smart lasers could make biopsies painless and noninvasive. Using a laser microscope that deploys rapid, ultrashort pulses to identify molecules, doctors soon could have a painless tool to scan a patient’s troublesome mole and review it on the spot.

Scientists at Michigan State University shaped the pulse of the smart laser to excite one compound or multiple compounds, based on their vibrational signatures, resulting in significant contrast. Although researchers previously used fluorescent compounds to achieve the same level of contrast, breakthroughs in stimulated Raman scattering microscopy have eliminated the need for fluorescent markers. The label-free molecular imaging technique enables doctors to map a particular chemical species even in the presence of an interfering one, such as cholesterol in the presence of lipids.

Using smart laser technology developed at Michigan State University, a patient’s troublesome mole could be painlessly scanned and reviewed by a doctor right on the spot.

The laser system also could be used to examine how compounds penetrate skin and hair, and to better identify how drugs penetrate tissue and how drugs and tissue interact. This could open the door to determining the potential side effects of drugs, reducing the time it takes to introduce new drugs to the market. Previously used to detect traces of hazardous materials from a distance, the laser imaging technology also has promising application potential in the homeland security sector.

The new findings appear in the journal Nature Methods, Jan. 16, 2011 (doi: 10.1038/nphoton.2010.294). Research for the technology was funded in part by the National Science Foundation.

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