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Melanoma, a new laser detects cancer cells in the blood and may help destroy them


In the future, doctors may be able to detect and kill cancer cells with a noninvasive laser . This is promised in a paper published in Science Transitional Medicine, in which researchers at the University of Arkansas Medical Sciences showcased the performance of their innovative laser device, which boasts a 96 percent success rate and 1,000 times greater sensitivity than current technology.
As the authors point out, one of the most frightening aspects of the melanoma is its ability to metastasize early in the progression of the disease, and once metastases have involved distant organs, the average five-year survival rate plummets, from near 100 percent in cases of non-metastatic, early resected cancer, to just 10 to 15 percent.
Therefore, it is essential to eliminate the tumor before it has a chance to spread, and to do this, researchers aim to identify tumor cells released from the primary tumor and circulating in the bloodstream. This is precisely where the new device comes in, a short-pulsed laser that recognizes melanoma cells in the blood vessels near the surface of the body, which heat up slightly because of their darker coloration. The heating activates a small acoustic wave that is then intercepted by the laser’s ultrasound detector, effective enough to detect a single cell present in a liter of blood.
Tested on 28 melanoma patients and 19 healthy subjects used as controls, the laser detected circulating tumor cells in 27 of the melanoma patients and in none of the healthy people.
The device not only detects tumor cells but also appears to be able to destroy them, in a treatment that lasts less than an hour, the safety levels of which remain to be fine-tuned, however. According to the authors, the treatment will probably not be enough to completely eliminate the tumor, but it could be used in conjunction with other treatments to improve its performance. This laser could also be used to monitor the effectiveness of anti-cancer drugs, check for signs of melanoma post-treatment, or take on a preventive role similar to mammography.

Galanzha EI, Menyaev YA et al. In vivo liquid biopsy using Cytophone platform for photoacoustic detection of circulating tumor cells in patients with melanoma. Sci Transl Med. 2019 Jun 12;11(496).


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