Smart lasers could make cancer biopsies painless, help speed new drugs to market

From a press release from Michigan State University:


EAST LANSING, Mich. — Biopsies in the future may be painless and noninvasive, thanks to smart laser technology being developed at Michigan State University.

To test for skin cancer, patients today must endure doctors cutting away a sliver of skin, sending the biopsy to a lab and anxiously awaiting the results. Using laser microscopes that deploy rapid, ultra-short pulses to identify molecules, doctors may soon have the tools to painlessly scan a patient’s troublesome mole and review the results on the spot, said Marcos Dantus.

The results touting this new molecule-selective technology can be found in the current issue of Nature Photonics, which Dantus co-authored with Sunney Xie of Harvard University.

“Smart lasers allow us to selectively excite compounds – even ones with small spectroscopic differences,” said Dantus. “We can shape the pulse of the lasers, excite one compound or another based on their vibrational signatures, and this gives us excellent contrast.”

In the past, researchers could approach this level of contrast by introducing fluorescent compounds. With the breakthrough using stimulated Raman scattering microscopy, fluorescent markers are unnecessary.

“Label-free molecular imaging has been the holy grail in medicine,” Dantus said. “SRS imaging gives greater specificity and the ability to map a particular chemical species in the presence of an interfering species, such as cholesterol in the presence of lipids.”

Additional potential applications include allowing researchers to closely examine how compounds penetrate skin and hair. Smart lasers also can better identify how drugs penetrate tissue and how drugs and tissue interact, thus mitigating the chances of potential side effects and helping reduce the time required to bring new drugs to market.


  1. #1 by hein vandenbergh on February 1, 2011 - 6:39 am

    Quote: “patients today must endure doctors cutting away a sliver of skin, sending the biopsy to a lab and anxiously awaiting the results.” Gosh……….

    While we endure another speculative application of the magic laser.

    How many times do people not say “No, it was not ordinary surgery, doc, it was laser-surgery” – when all that was used was a laser-powereed scalpel. A knife is a knife – unless you’re Crocodile Dundee.

    Anyway, this stuff sounds good and promising, I personally cannot wait for the IPO. Then, I’ll buy as many as I am allocated as I am sure the issue will be wildly oversubscribed. “No doc shall be without a portable laser microscope in Dantus’ lifetime, and bugger the fight against malaria”. Meanwhile, I do not think any of us will be out of business before the laser-crematorium gets us. Come to think of it, what with 6 billion people now on Planet Earth, that’s where the REAL money is……..

    BTW – my favorite absolute pet hate is emotionalism in scientific reporting, and the intro to this tripped all the right switches for me.

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