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"'Spased' Out" -- The Discovery Files

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A nanolaser known as the spaser can serve as a super-bright, water-soluble, biocompatible probe capable of finding metastasized cancer cells in the blood stream and then killing these cells, according to a new research study. The study found the spaser can be used as an optical probe and when released into the body (possibly through an injection or drinking a solution), it can find and go after circulating tumor cells, stick to them and destroy these cells by breaking them apart to prevent cancer metastases.

Credit: NSF/Karson Productions

Audio Transcript:

Honey, we shrunk the laser.

I'm Bob Karson with the Discovery Files, from the National Science Foundation.

Often doctors are able to control cancer in a specific organ, only to find that it traveled -- metastasized into other areas of the patient's body. Most circulating cancer cells are nearly impossible to detect and destroy. (Sound effect: explosion)

Developed by a team at Georgia State and the University of Arkansas, a new technique seeks out and obliterates metastasizing cancer cells in the blood, while leaving healthy cells untouched. They're doing it with the world's smallest nano-lasers: tiny particles called "spasers." (Sound effect: mocking star trek) "Set spasers on stun." No, "set spasers on kill."

In the study, each spaser is made up of a mini gold sphere covered with a silica shell and coated with a biomedical tracing dye. Oh, and one more thing needed. Bait. A little chunk of folate. Human cancer cell receptors love folate. Normal cells, not so much. That's how the spasers are able to target only the circulating cancer cells.

In the future, a fluid containing spasers may be ingested or injected. The spasers absorb pulses of laser light and heat up, causing shockwaves in each targeted cancer cell -- that breaks them apart. (Sound effect: explosion) This could be promising. No other method so specifically goes after and takes out these rogue cells.

Hey cancer cells, you guys up for a quick little game of -- "spaser tag?"

"The discovery files" covers projects funded by the government"s National Science Foundation. Federally sponsored research -- brought to you, by you! Learn more at or on our podcast.

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