Revolutionising Cancer Treatment with Raman Techniques

It is no secret that cancer can be difficult to eradicate from the human body, particularly when trying to exterminate every last cell. But recent research has uncovered a novel and promising application of analytical science to medicine.  

Following surgery to remove cancerous tumours, the possibility of cancer cells being left behind has always been inevitable and feared. This is particularly true in cases of brain tumours, where the location of the cancer is not in a particularly accessible place to ensure complete removal. Failing to eliminate all of the cancerous tissue may inevitably lead to cancer reappearing months or years later, but there is only so much a surgeon can do when attempting to distinguish between healthy tissue and cancer. But now a well-known analytical tool, Raman spectroscopy, could be used by surgeons to help ensure no brain cancer cells have been left behind thanks to collaborating teams of Canadian researchers.

This hand-held Raman spectroscopy probe essentially projects a laser onto the target area and measures the scattering of monochromatic light from the molecules. When light encounters particles in the air, a certain energy exchange takes place after which the photons produced by the device have a greater or lesser energy. This shift in energy can provide information about molecular vibrations and thus be used to characterise the molecular makeup of a material. In this case, the emitted or scattered light can be studied and interpreted to identify the substance under analysis and ultimately distinguish between healthy brain cells and cancer cells.

The device contains a probe which the surgeon can apply to the brain tissue during brain surgery to obtain a Raman spectrum. Using this, a decision can be made as to whether the tumour has been entirely removed or if further cancer cells remain. The study investigating the use of this device achieved a greater than 92% accuracy in identifying cancer cells, equally effective regardless of the grade of glioma (a type of tumour) under investigation.

A clinical trial is due to be launched to further assess the suitability of this promising technique.

Jermyn, M et al (2015). Intraoperative brain cancer detection with Raman spectroscopy in humans. Sci Transl Med, 7(274), p274.

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Stephanie Rankin

I am an analytical scientist based in the UK with a particular interest in forensic science.

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