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The light fantastic

Researchers at the University 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.

Professor Kishan Dholakia, Professor in the School of Physics and Astronomy, and Dr Tomas Cizmar, Research Fellow 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 analysed.

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 tumours 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 Professor Wolfgang Drexler at the Medical University of Vienna.

Professor Dholakia, a world-leading expert in optical trapping, Raman analysis, beam-shaping and photonics, said: “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 University of St Andrews in Scotland.

Note to Editors

Professor Dholakia is available on 01334 463184 or 07710 713596.

For images contact the press office.

FAMOS is a world-class multidisciplinary team of seven leading academic biophotonic institutions, and 10 top SMEs and companies from eight countries with crucial complementary knowledge of laser physics, optical engineering, biomedical engineering, wavefront engineering, computer sciences, signal post processing, medical physics and preclinical and translational sciences.


Issued by the Press Office, University of St Andrews

Contact Fiona MacLeod on 01334 462108/ 0771 414 0559.

Ref: (famos 03/12/11)

View the University’s latest news at http://www.st-andrews.ac.uk/news/

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