Page last updated at 12:30 GMT, Friday, 22 January 2010

Scientists shed light on cancer

cancer cells
The new technique could allow earlier detection of cancer

Researchers at the University of St Andrews have developed a new technique that could allow earlier detection of cancer.

'Raman spectroscopy' involves the use of monochromatic light which, when aimed at a cell, interacts with the biological molecules.

Scientists are then able to identify the cells components and detect disease.

This new tool will also provide new diagnosis methods for pathologists.

The research is a joint venture between the university's School of Physics & Astronomy and the Bute Medical School.

This approach holds great promise for the more accurate identification of cancer cells
Professor C. Simon Herrington
University of St Andrews

Professor Kishan Dholakia, of the School of Physics & Astronomy, said: "Light may reveal so much information.

"The Raman signal given off by every type of molecule, by the interaction between different molecules, and by different thicknesses of molecules is unique, and as such, may be used to analyse a molecular species both qualitatively and quantitatively.

"While initial Raman spectroscopy was unable to analyse most biological samples due to the interference from the background fluorescence of water, buffers, or media present in the sample, new types of Raman spectroscopy have been developed that solve this problem."

Novel technology

Researcher, Michael Mazilu said: "By quickly changing the laser wavelength, we can extract the Raman information from the strong "interfering" fluorescence background.

"In such a way, the problem of tissue fluorescence, which overwhelms the Raman signal of most biological samples, can be easily overcome."

Professor C. Simon Herrington, of the Bute Medical school, said: "This novel technology eliminates many of the problems that prevent Raman spectroscopy being used in a clinical setting, such as the fluorescence generated by the environment in which cells are embedded.

"This approach holds great promise for the more accurate identification of cancer cells."

The research is published in the latest edition of the international journal Analytical Chemistry.

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