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Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Biopsy by laser

Skin biopsies may be headed to the medical museum, thanks to work developed at Michigan State University and Harvard. The research team, led by Marcos Dantus and Sunney Xie, have developed a way to use lasers to replace biopsies altogether.

The scientists used a modified version of Raman scattering (SRS) microscopy to look for skin cancer. SRS lasers emit light that causes the molecules they encounters to vibrate. The vibrational patterns can indicate which compounds are present in the sample. However, in the past, those signals could only indicate certain classes of molecules, and thus were too broad to be of diagnostic use. Dantus and Xie’s team was able to narrow the specificity of the laser to the point where they could distinguish cholesterol from similar lipids.

The researchers expect to be able to use the same technique to identify cancer-associated proteins, as well as detecting traces of toxins. To be clear, this detection method requires neither contrasting dyes nor biopsy of the region to be tested. If this method proves effective, doctors will be able to diagnose skin tumors simply by shining a laser on the questionable area. The results would be almost instantaneous.