Scientists from Harvard Medical School have developed three ways to transform individual cells into functioning lasers that emit light when they’re excited. According to Matjaz Humar, of the Harvard Medical School, the process can actually make it possible to track the path of diseases like cancer as they spread through the body. Talk about a bright idea.
Researchers found three different ways to make the incredible phenomenon happen. The New Scientist reports that the first process involves injecting cells with a tiny drop of oil, forming an “optical cavity which could be filled with fluorescent dye.” Shining a light pulse onto the cavity caused the dye atoms to get excited and emit light in a “tightly focused beam.”
But that isn’t the only way that the human body can become a laser machine. Polystyrene beads only 10 micrometers wide were placed in a Petri dish and filled with macrophages, a white blood cell that takes in foreign material. Once the cells ingested the beads, they did the same thing as the oil droplets, emitting laser light once excited.
The last method involves using fatty droplets that “exist naturally within living cells.” Humar says that we all have fat cells inside our tissue and “we are all made of lasers.” The first two approaches were tested on human cells, the last on pig cells. Tagging cells with fluorescent dyes is “a common and relatively easy way for researchers to label cells by getting them to emit light,” according to New Scientist. However, this process produces a range of wavelengths that make it difficult to distinguish between cells that are tagged differently. Laser light has a narrow range of wavelengths, so every cell in the human body could have a unique, identifiable signature.