KOLKATA — Whether you are firing up smartphone apps, flicking TV channels with a remote or going for laser eye surgery, the science of light christened photonics makes it all possible. Now, Indian scientists are exploring the potential of light-based probes to detect cancer - in time and without slicing up the body.
By literally shining the light on complex repeating patterns in developing cancer cells, scientists at the Indian Institute of Science Education and Research (IISER) Kolkata have shown how this information can be decoded and interpreted to indicate abnormalities before it is too late for successful therapy.
"By using a light-based probe to identify certain complex repeating patterns (called multifractals), present on developing cancer cells, we can get early indications of the disease," Nirmalya Ghosh, an associate professor in the physical sciences department at IISER-Kolkata's Mohanpur campus in Nadia district, told IANS over phone.
The basis of this technology is that cells which are progressing towards cancer show more of these complex geometric patterns than the normal, unaffected and healthy ones.
"Based on this correlation, we created a novel light-scattering based method to identify these unique patterns for detecting cancer progression," Ghosh said.
The US and European countries such as Germany have already taken strides in this arena and India is waking up to it, given the increasing incidences of cancer, he said.
According to the WHO's South East Asia Region office, every year cancer kills an estimated 1.1 million people in the region and nearly 1.7 million new cancer cases are reported.
With over one million cancer patients and over 680,000 deaths each year, cancer causes a considerable burden of mortality, morbidity and disability in India.
Lung and oral cancers are the most common cancers among men while cervical and breast cancers are the most common cancers in women, according to the WHO.
Ghosh, who heads the Bio Optics and Nano Photonics (BioNaP) group of the institute, said his team was initially focussing on oral and cervical cancer.
"Worldwide the stress is on early detection. What we are trying to achieve is develop a set-up in hospitals or clinics for mass screenings.
"You can shine a light, say, via a fibre optic probe into the suspected region of the body, such as mouth cavity and get a hit on cancer when it has just begun, through a software model developed by us," elaborated Ghosh.
Moreover, the light-based approach scores over conventional tools.
"The developed method is highly sensitive and accurate in comparison to techniques like MRI scan etc. Most of the conventional methods of scanning fail to detect cancer in the early stages and our method is promising in this regard. Early detection can make therapy successful," Ghosh added.
Ghosh's team collaborates with Asima Pradhan of the department of physics at IIT Kanpur, Alex Vitkin of the department of medical biophysics and radiation oncology at the University of Toronto, Canada, and Prasanta Panigrahi of the department of physical sciences from IISER-Kolkata for studies in this area.
The latest findings have appeared in Nature Scientific Reports (2014), an open access journal of the Nature Publishing Group.