Cancer is a disease characterized by the uncontrolled division of cells resulting in the formation of tumors. These tumors have the capability to metastasize (spread throughout the body through the blood) and hence can become malignant. It is imperative to detect cancer cells in the benign stage itself before metastasis. Once cancer spreads throughout the body, it becomes complicated and challenging to treat it. Keeping in view of the hurdles in curing malignant cancers, cancer research is highly focused on seeking out new technologies that would enable and enhance early cancer diagnosis.

Vladimir Zharov and his team at the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences, have now favorably developed a new laser that could detect and kill cancer cells (especially melanoma cells) non-invasively. Usually, to detect the spread of cancer, blood samples are collected from the patients and studied. But this method of diagnosis produces a lot of false-negative results( in case of benign cancer). Though it diagnoses malignant cancer perfectly, it becomes too late to start the cancer treatment. Thus the new laser device developed endows hope to advance early cancer diagnosis.

The cytophone laser (ultrasound-based device) developed by the scientists can target and kill the melanoma cells circulating in the bloodstream. This new technology makes use of the pulses of laser light on the outer surface of the skin to heat up cells in the blood. But the laser only detects and heats melanoma cells (not healthy cells ) because these cells carry a dark pigment called melanin, which can absorb the light. The Cytophone then uses an ultrasound technique to detect the waves emitted by this heating phenomenon. Since the laser energy is more concentrated on the blood vessels and circulating tumor cells, the melanin cells in the skin are not harmed.

Though this technology is many steps away from being commercialized as a diagnostic device, it is great that this laser is up to 1,000 times more sensitive than current diagnostic methods of cancer. Further optimization of this device is aimed to enable the detection of circulating tumors in the bloodstream in many types of cancer (other than melanoma).

“Our goal is by killing these cells, we can help prevent the spreading of metastatic cancer”- Vladimir Zharov

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