Researchers at the Univ. of St Andrews have been awarded more than half a million pounds as part of an international project to develop new laser-based methods to more quickly and accurately diagnose major diseases.

Prof. Kishan Dholakia, in the School of Physics and Astronomy, and Tomas Cizmar, in the School of Medicine will lead the St Andrews team which will work on creating new light probes which could save lives by detecting potentially life-threatening diseases, including skin cancer, at an earlier stage.

St Andrews researchers will draw on the university’s world leading expertise in Raman analysis - obtaining information through light scattering from molecules, akin to an optical fingerprint, and optical beam shaping.

In particular the researchers will examine the light scattering “signature” changes between healthy and cancerous cells and tissue, that are subtle but can be picked up and analyzed.

The team will focus on using these light-based techniques as methods for early screening of diseases, including types of skin cancer, ultimately addressing specific unmet clinical needs.

The light scattering changes may be seen very early in the development of a disease, which would allow doctors or clinicians to use this to pinpoint the location of tumors at a very early stage.  In turn, this would allow the application of treatment at a point in the disease cycle which could lead to the reduction of recurrence.

The pan-European biophotonics consortium, “FAMOS,” plans to develop a new generation of advanced lasers, methods and light sources, which they expect will be able to deliver dramatic advances to the early diagnosis and, ultimately, treatment of major diseases including Macular Degeneration - a potentially devastating condition which can lead to loss of vision in older adults due to damage to the retina.

The St Andrews team has been awarded £504,800 as part of the £8.4million (Euro 10.1m) European Commission grant to FAMOS, which is led by Prof. Wolfgang Drexler at the Medical Univ. of Vienna.

Professor Dholakia, an expert in optical trapping, Raman analysis, beam-shaping and photonics, says, “It is very exciting to be part of FAMOS and a recognition of the internationally recognised efforts of my team over the last decade in this very important and challenging topic for human health.”

FAMOS, which means “excellent” in German, has 17 partners from eight countries including the Univ. of St Andrews.