A team of scientists from the University of Arkansas have successfully tested a laser that can track down cancer cells and kill them - all from outside the skin.
While being completely non-invasive, "this technology has the potential to significantly inhibit metastasis progression," Vladimir Zharov, author of the paper that was published today in Science Translational Medicine, tells IEEE Spectrum.
The idea is to kill of cancer cells before they are able to metastasize, or spread, through the body - the primary cause of cancer-related deaths.
By shining a laser at these circulating tumor cells, they end up absorbing far more heat energy than regular cells. The heat causes them to expand and collapse.
"The use of lasers has revolutionized disease diagnosis and treatment. However, the large size of lasers has prevented their use in many medical applications at the cellular level," said Zharo in a 2017 statement.
And the results are promising: "In one patient, we destroyed 96 percent of the tumor cells," said Zharov. And that's before they cranked the laser to max power.
It's not the first device of its kind, but Zharov claims it's the first to be demonstrated in humans.
But the new device has another big advantage: it can scan a litre of blood in an hour - far quicker than competing devices.