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'Smart scalpel' detects cancer cells in seconds

Albuquerque, N.M. - A "smart scalpel" mechanism intended to detect the presence of cancer cells as a surgeon cuts away a tumor obscured by blood, muscle and fat has been developed in prototype by scientists at the US Department of Energy's Sandia National Laboratories.

The dime-sized device, called a biological microcavity laser, should help surgeons more accurately cut away malignant growths while minimizing the amount of healthy tissue removed.

In effect, the patented device would tell a surgeon when to stop cutting. "We can quickly identify a cell population that has abnormal protein content, as do tumor cells, by passing only a few hundred cells - a billionth of a liter - through our device," says Paul Gourley, leader of the Sandia effort. The device, more briefly referred to as a biocavity laser, has distinguished in the laboratory between cultured cells consisting of normal human brain cells called astrocytes and their malignant form, called glioblastomas, with excellent results.

The brain is a particularly critical place to know when enough tissue has been removed, says Gourley. Responses from other cells can be filtered out. DOE has selected the work as best project of the year among its 28 US labs in a competition in its Basic Energy Sciences division.

A news conference sponsored by the American Physical Society will be held on Thursday, March 23 at the Minneapolis Convention Center to present latest findings on the device. A formal presentation will be made on March 24, also at the Minneapolis Convention Center, at the Society's annual March meeting.

Can quickly distinguish cancerous from non-cancerous cells

According to Dr. Steve Skirboll, a member of the neurosurgery department at the University of New Mexico's School of Medicine who is helping to determine the characteristics of the biocavity laser, "The device has great potential benefit, particularly if we continue to develop the nanotechnology at its base. We're able
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Contact: Neal Singer
nsinger@sandia.gov
505-845-7078
DOE/Sandia National Laboratories
22-Mar-2000


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