Scientists have developed a non-invasive laser light that can track down and kill circulating cancer cells (CTCs).
The Cytophone, developed by Dr. Vladimir Zharov and his team at the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences, works by shining the device’s laser on an animal or person’s skin. Any passing melanoma cells slightly heat up because of their dark pigment, melanin.
The heating creates a tiny acoustic wave that gets picked up by the Cytophone’s ultrasound detector.
Zharov and his team tested the device on 19 healthy volunteers and 28 melanoma patients. In the latter group, CTCs were detected in as little as 10 seconds. Additionally, their CTC levels came down over the hour as the device was apparently destroying the cells without causing any side effects.
“In one patient, we destroyed 96 percent of the tumor cells,” Zharov told IEEE Spectrum.
“This technology has the potential to significantly inhibit metastasis progression,” he added.
Zharov said the test is 1,000 times more sensitive than existing techniques, which usually rely on much smaller amounts of blood from blood tests.
While the treatment might not wipe out a person’s cancer altogether, Zharov says it could be used to enhance the effects of a cancer drug.
The FDA has approved the conclusion of the Cytophone’s safety in humans and Zharov and his team are developing an easy-to-use portable and wearable versions with advanced small lasers.