Health Blog

No More Needles

Non-invasive medical tools could soon be the norm

October 11, 2010

Ever had to take a cranky baby to the doctor? Just hearing those tortured screams from the waiting room is enough to turn anyone off of parenthood.  But thanks to new technology, noninvasive laser devices could soon replace painful needles and scary X-rays.

Scientists at MIT are exploring how to use Raman spectroscopy to check the health of body tissue.  This technique identifies molecules by measuring how the light from fiber-optic laser beams scatters as it passes through them.  Since the molecular composition of our tissues changes when we get sick (and even when we’re about to), researchers hope that we’ll be able to turn that laser beam on ourselves to diagnose and prevent disease.  Up to now, the technique has only been used on cadavers, but the prognosis looks promising that researchers will be able to get successful results from living tissue too.

Pointing the laser beam at teeth could help us see decay before it becomes serious.  Using it on tumors could tell us whether they’re malignant or benign, eliminating the need for biopsy and mammography.  Aiming at the veins inside elbows could check blood for irregularities.

Since lasers are so sensitive, researchers hope that they’ll enable us to catch even small signals of impending disease, making early cancer detection easier, for example.

If it works, before long, our visits to the doctor might consist of nothing more invasive than a beam of light.  One question: will we still get lollipops?

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Discussion

3 Comments

Casey says:

This is a fascinating development, it would be incredible to replace drawing blood and taking x-rays with spectroscopy techniques. Though unfortunately I don’t know if this completely solves the problem of needles at the doctor’s office… unless they have found a way to deliver vaccines or IV treatments via lasers.

Mike Donahue says:

Beyond the regular Raman technique, there exists variants such as Surface Enhanced Raman Spectroscopy (SERS), the potential exists for highly specific pathogen detection at levels unheard of in modern medicine.

We supply SERS vials that allow users to test fluids, so unfortunately we’re still at the syringe stage!

Jane Anderson says:

This is very interesting information. I heard from a friend that there are devices like portable raman that people can use to test themselves. It’s amazing how quickly technology is developing, especially technology in the medical world.

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