Personalized medicine? – It’s all thanks to photonics!

The way active ingredients work is also dependent on the genetic disposition of the patients. In order to boost the potential of personalized medicine, photonic processes are essential.

In order to be able to treat cancers in a targeted way, scientists have been investigating exactly what kind of enemy they are dealing with. Using genetic analyses of tumor cells, they can determine an appropriate attack strategy. In some cases, specific mutations trigger rapid cell division. In others, there are viruses that provoke immune reactions and misguided repair mechanisms or implant their genome into the DNA of the patients. Sometimes physicians find signs that tumor cells are sensitive to certain active ingredients on their outer surface.

Doctors can derive targeted treatment strategies from these analyses. These may use medication that blocks cell division, prevents the aforementioned immune reactions or attacks the tumor cells at the identified attack points. Unlike standardized chemotherapy, this personalized therapy is not only more promising, but also minimizes the side effects thanks to the more targeted measures.

Photonic processes provide crucial information

Photonic processes are essential for these analyses. Labs are using various mass spectrometry systems to investigate cellular processes, immune reactions and the proteins involved. They are also using various microscopic processes to paint a precise picture of how bacteria and viruses attack somatic cells.

For these investigations, they need to isolate the specific cells beforehand. Photonics makes this possible, too. Using lasers of various wavelengths, fluorescent dyes and optical boosters in flow cytometers, it is possible to analyze thousands of cells per second. Lasers of various wavelengths are also used in devices for sorting cells to identify the desired cell types using specific fluorescent markers.

In flow cytometry, liquid with cells is guided through a measuring zone by one or more laser beams. The light is scattered when it hits a cell. At the same time, the various lasers with different wavelengths stimulate fluorescent markers in or on the cell. The scatter and fluorescent signals are analyzed using highly sensitive opto-electronic detectors (Photomultipliers, Avalanche Photodiodes) in a series of discrete wavelength channels. This makes it possible to count the cells, identify the cell types and measure their functional characteristics.

Laser technology enables precise cell investigations

Modern multiparameter cytometers with up to ten laser wavelengths and detectors specific to each wavelength can be combined with more than a dozen different fluorescent dyes. This allows the devices to measure thousands of flowing cells per second with lots of parameters. For example, the different cells active in the immune system can be identified and characterized. This process also acts as the basis of cell sorting. Sorted cells can then be subjected to DNA and RNA analyses or investigated at a microscopic level. This also makes it possible to create cell cultures for additional in-vitro tests or preparation for targeted gene therapy.

The range of laser wavelengths and fluorescent dyes available increases the number of possible analysis parameters and the precision of the findings. Whether in cancer diagnosis, pharmaceutical research, immunology or vaccine development: Multi-parameter flow cytometers provide essential information. One of the success factors for the technology is that the lasers can be simply integrated at different wavelengths and the systems require little maintenance. Coherent recognized this early on and is continuously expanding the OBIS® product line established in flow cytometry. The latest entries are two UV lasers with 349 and 360-nanometer (nm) wavelengths. For ease of integration, the diode pumped solid-state lasers (DPSSL) have the electronic interface typical of the OBIS and the excellent beam quality, stability and symmetry that characterize this series.

For flow cytometry, Coherent integrates OBIS laser sources from ultraviolet to infrared that the user can select into the multiple wavelength laser OBIS-CellX which comes with built-in electronics and beam forming and focusing optics. Thanks to the elliptical focus of the laser, cells flowing through the measuring zone are reliably measured regardless of their location. This is extremely important in clinical applications. This often involves taking on life threatening adversaries.

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