New laser that detects, targets and destroys cancer cells will improve life expectancy

Non-invasive laser is diagnostic and therapeutic, blasting cancer cells from outside the skin.

A team of researchers at the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences (UAMS) in the US has developed a laser that targets and eliminates cancer cells. The laser, called the Cytophone, targets dangerous circulating tumour cells (CTCs) – these are the cancer cells responsible for metastasis, the means by which cancers cause secondary malignant growths as cells break off the original tumour and travel to other sites in the body via the bloodstream and establish additional tumours. Metastasis is the primary cause of death from cancer, being responsible for 90% of all cancer fatalities [1].

Longevity.Technology: The Cytophone, although it sounds like something out of a 1950s sci-fi movie, is an incredible weapon the fight against cancer – as we extend life, so we extend the risk of cancer [9], so being able to detect and eradicate cancer cells will not only improve lifespans, but improve healthspan quality.

When the Cytophone’s laser beam passes through the skin and the blood vessels, all the cells begin to heat up. The CTCs that originate from melanoma, a type of skin cancer, contain more of the dark skin pigment melanin than other cells [2]. The melanin absorbs more heat energy and they expand more rapidly than the surrounding cells and becoming detectable because the expansion generates a sound detectable on the surface of the skin by an ultrasound transducer.

As the laser continues to heat the CTCs, they continue to expand and nano bubbles form in the cell body that eventually destroy it. Lead researcher Dr Vladimir Zharov said the device was a thousand times more sensitive that other methods for detecting CTCs in the bloodstream [3] as the device can scan a patient’s entire blood supply, rather than just looking for potential evidence in a small sample of a millilitres. “In one patient, we destroyed 96 percent of the tumor cells,” said Dr Zharov. The Cytophone is fast as well as effective, scanning a litre of blood in just an hour [5] and non-invasive – no needles are used at all.

The potential benefits of the Cytophone go beyond hunting and killing just melanoma cells, however. The Arkansas team used a cocktail of gold and magnetic nanoparticles that had a unique biological coating. The nanoparticles have a high light-to-heat conversion rate [6] and when the unique coating snags passing CTCs, the Cytophone laser destroys them by heating the nanoparticles and causing the same destructive nanobubbles. A breast cancer removal trial using this technology is currently underway [7].

The Cytophone can also be used to detect blood clots that occur as a result of cancer; blood clots are the second leading cause of death in cancer sufferers [8], so having a device that eradicates CTCs as well as picking up dangerous clots in a non-invasive way would be a must-have piece of kit in any oncology department.

Eleanor Garth
Staff Writer and Community Manager Following a degree in Classics, Eleanor organised biomedical engineering conferences and provided research support at Imperial College London and various London hospitals, before working as a science and medicine journalist.

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