Painless laser can diagnose disease

The laser beam technology is called Raman spectroscopy.

Washington: A visit to the dentist could now be a painless affair, with the development of new portable laser devices to probe bones, teeth, and other parts of the body for early signs of diseases like osteoporosis and tooth decay.

C’n`EN Senior Editor Celia Henry Arnaud notes that these new diagnostic tools will have the ability to see beneath the skin and detect disease, without exposing patients to X-rays.

The laser beam technology, called Raman spectroscopy, focuses a laser beam painlessly through the skin onto a bone or onto the surface of a tooth. After hitting its target, the beam returns to an electronic detector with imprinted information that can reveal whether disease is present.

"A patient simply puts his or her wrist on a table and then we have the optical fibers delivering laser light... connected to a holder, a sort of a bracelet made out of silicon, that is strapped to the patient`s wrist," explained Professor Morris at University of Michigan, USA.

"We turn on the laser and after we`ve collected enough signal in a few minutes, we turn it off. In principle, it will take a couple of seconds to interpret the results," he said.

The technology is a mainstay tool in chemistry laboratories that is finding a new life in medicine. The article describes growing medical interest in Raman-based devices, especially for diagnosing osteoporosis and other bone diseases, and for tracking the effectiveness of treatment.

It could also mark the end of "drill-and-fill" routine for tooth decay treatments. The technique could also mean blood tests done without taking blood samples, the article indicates.

The article is published in the current issue of Chemical & Engineering News (C&EN), ACS` weekly newsmagazine.