Tumor cells that spread cancer via the bloodstream face a new foe: a laser beam, shined from outside the skin, that finds and kills these metastatic little demons on the spot.
Though it may still be a ways away from becoming a commercial diagnostic tool, the laser is up to 1,000 times more sensitive than current methods used to detect tumor cells in blood, the researchers reported June 12 in the journal Science Translational Medicine.
While being completely non-invasive, “this technology has the potential to significantly inhibit metastasis progression,” Vladimir Zharov, author of the paper that was published today in Science Translational Medicine, tells IEEE Spectrum. The idea is to kill of cancer cells before they are able to metastasize, or spread, through the body — the primary cause of cancer-related deaths.
The researchers have already shown a proof of concept by targeting circulating tumor cells using the spaser. In the future, it is envisioned that such spasers will be delivered directly to the sites of tumors, as they can be bound to folic acid and other chemical compounds that tend to gather in large quantities near cancer cells. There, the spasers will be able to analyze the cells and destroy the cancerous cells one by one, leaving everything else perfectly intact.
The results are promising: “In one patient, we destroyed 96 percent of the tumor cells,” said Zharov. And that’s before they cranked the laser to max power.