What is the technology behind it?

We have developed a novel technology - electric-field resolved molecular fingerprinting (EMF). EMF probes the full repertoire of all types of molecules in a bioliquid, within a single, sensitive measurement in a test tube - in vitro
(Pupeza et al., Nature 2020).
During EMF, broadband, few-cycle infrared (IR) laser pulses bring molecules in a sample into vibration, which emits a rapidly-oscillating IR electric field, characteristic of the sample’s molecular composition. EMF isolates signals from the excitation and measures them directly, resulting in a background-free information-rich signature, which we refer to as the molecular fingerprint of the bioliquid. The read-out of the fingerprint information is performed using advanced machine learning algorithms. EMF achieves a much-improved limit of detecting molecules and a superior dynamic range compared to existing spectroscopic techniques.


What do we measure?

For nerve, heart, skin or liver cells to exist, grow and communicate with neighbouring cells, the metabolism within the cells must break down, convert and build up vital energy carriers and building blocks. In the process, organic compounds, the metabolites, are formed. With cancer growth, abnormal cells divide faster than desired. In this process, they not only generate altered amounts of metabolites, but also different ones. The exact changes are not well understood. Hundreds of thousands of metabolites, but also proteins and derivatives of many other types of molecules, eventually end up in the bloodstream, where their abnormal changes indicate the onset and progression of tumour growth. This marks a shift into an abnormal state, disease.

Whether these changes are specific for individual cancers sufficiently enough to distinguish them from all other diseases is still an open question. This is what we address in the Lasers4Life project. We try to identify characteristic fingerprints of different cancers at different disease stages. For this purpose, together with clinical oncologists, we are enrolling thousands of participants into our clinical studies and we analyze their blood samples with infrared molecular spectroscopy. In parallel, the new ultra-short pulse laser technology is being continuously developed and tested by laser scientists in our department.