Electronics usually don't mix well with biological
Sandia National Laboratories researchers have overcome the incompatibility
with a microscopic laser designed to quickly measure and identify microorganisms
and cell types without inhibiting biological processes.
The device is a tailored stack of materials that includes a light-emitting
semiconductor surrounded by a polymer, or plastic material that protects
cell membranes from the toxic semiconductor.
The device measures cells by shining light through them and analyzing
the light that comes through the other side. The pattern shows the distribution
of protein molecules and organelles within a cell. The method can be used
to identify cancer cells and distinguish sickle from normal red blood cells;
it can potentially identify specific bacteria, including antibiotic-resistant
bacteria and different types of anthrax, according to the researchers.
Handheld diagnostic microlaser devices could be used in the field,
including areas devastated by war or disaster. The device could also eventually
enable surgeons to determine in real-time where a malignant tumor ends and
healthy tissue begins, according to the researchers.
Handheld sensors could be practical within three years, according
to the researchers. The work appeared in the October 2002 issue of the Journal
of Biomedical Optics.
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