Diagnosis by laser

By Morgan Sherburne • Published: April 15th, 2014
Category: Health in a Heartbeat

It’s something even the Jetsons couldn’t predict: Researchers at the University of Adelaide have developed a laser that can diagnose diseases.

Researchers say the laser could potentially detect trace gases in exhaled breath in a surgery room. For example, people with diabetes exhale tiny amounts of acetone, which the laser could detect.

According to researchers at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, healthy exhaled breath typically contains nitrogen, oxygen, carbon dioxide, water vapor and inert gases,. They say breath odors can indicate whether a person has untreated diabetes, liver disease, kidney failure or dental disease. But sometimes stronger foods such as garlic, onions, fish, spices and mints can mask a person’s breath and make a diagnostic estimate based on scent difficult.

The laser works by operating in the same frequency in which hydrocarbon gases such as acetone absorb light. It produces twenty five times more light emission than other lasers operating at the same frequency, which allows the laser to detect gases at even low concentrations.

Scientists can also use the laser to detect greenhouse gases such as methane and ethane. The laser uses an optical fiber, which makes the laser easier and cheaper to use.

Although some of us may only think of lasers in the sci-fi sense, there are actually many medical applications that rely on the use of these beams of intense light. For example, lasers can be used in surgery, mammography and in various dermatology treatments.

The University of Adelaide researchers hope the laser can be used in many diagnostic and sensing settings. And if a diagnostic use of the laser comes to pass, just remember to forgo the garlic before your appointment.