Stretchable film may lead to smartphone-sized cancer detectors

por Lauren Dubinsky, Senior Reporter | January 14, 2016
Rad Oncology Population Health
Chemical engineers at the University of Michigan have created a thin, stretchable film that — by coiling light waves like a Slinky — may lead to the development of a smartphone-sized cancer detector for rapidly analyzing blood samples.

"More frequent monitoring could enable doctors to catch cancer recurrence earlier, to more effectively monitor the effectiveness of medications and to give patients better peace of mind. This new film may help make that happen," Nicholas Kotov, the Joseph B. and Florence V. Cejka professor of engineering, said in a statement.

The film works by producing circulatory, polarized light, which may provide early insight into when cancer recurs. Unlike linear polarization, which is common (it's in sunglasses, for one thing), circular polarization is rare in nature and cannot be seen with the naked eye. It coils light into a 3-D helix shape — instead of a linear wave — that can spin clockwise and counterclockwise.

Since the film technology is still being developed, a large and expensive machine is required to produce the light. But the researchers believe that the film may be a simpler and less costly approach to generating polarization.

The circulatory polarized light can be used to identify biomarkers from the earliest stages of cancer recurrence in a blood sample. Synthetic biological particles are coated with a reflective layer that responds to circulatory polarized light and binds to the sample's biomarkers.

The researchers, who published their findings online in Nature Materials, believe the film could ultimately lead to a smartphone-size device for blood analysis and cancer detection.

While a commercial product won't be available any time soon, the researchers see potential beyond cancer detection. They believe circularly polarized light could be used for data transmission and for bending light around objects and making them partially invisible.

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