Scientists see the light in diagnosis

It's fingerprinting - but not as we know it.
It's fingerprinting - but not as we know it.

A new type of “fingerprint” has been developed which could lead to early detection of illnesses including leukemia and lymphoma.

St Andrews University scientists have developed a revolutionary method of identifying cells of the immune system using ‘molecular fingerprints’.

The immune system comprises a range of cell types that react to infections and other challenges, resulting in a powerful immune response with the aim of eradicating the infective agent or problem. Traditional methods of identifying and isolating these cells from blood usually involves labelling them with fluorescent or magnetically labelled antibodies.

A new light scattering technique allows immune cells with absolutely no labelling at all to be identified, so allowing rapid identification and further analysis to take place with no potential alteration to the cells.

The work was led by Dr Simon Powis of the School of Medicine, and Prof Kishan Dholakia of the School of Physics and Astronomy, and continues the close collaboration of medical scientists and physicists in the area of biophotonics pioneered by the University in recent years.

Dr Powis, Reader in Immunology, said, “Under a normal light microscope these immune cells essentially all look identical. With this new method we can identify key cell types without any labelling.

“Our next goal is to make a full catalogue of all the normal cell types of the immune system that can be detected in the bloodstream. Once we have this completed, we can then collaborate with our clinical colleagues to start identifying when these immune cells are altered, in conditions such as leukaemia and lymphoma, potentially providing a rapid detection system from just a small blood sample.”