Smart needle diagnoses cancer

February 2020 Health of Tomorrow Eline Feenstra

A ‘smart needle’ that is able to identify cancer cells almost immediately, using light: this is a new technology that was developed by scientists at Exeter University (U.K.)

Using Raman spectroscopy, the light reflected from tissue that’s exposed to low energy laser is measured. Healthy tissue reflects light in a different manner from diseased or cancerous tissue.

The Raman needle seems to be particularly effective in detecting lymphoma, a type of cancer that is notoriously difficult to diagnose. The needle consists of a thin needle that houses an optic fibre, that can be inserted through the skin in order to diasnose molecular mutations that may point to cancer.  


Current cancer screening methods can be time-consuming, expensive and invasive (in case of biopsies), and there may also be a long wait before the results are known, which adds to anxiety with the patient. In case of lymphoma, patients are subjected to biopsy, a painful procedure, after which the patient needs to wait for up to two weeks for a diagnosis. The smart needle can reduce this waiting period to a mere second or two.

So far, the Raman needle has only been tested on 68 samples in a laboratory setting, with promising results. It appears that the technique is quite adept at distinguishing between healthy and diseased tissue. The next step is a human trial in several UK hospitals, that is expected to last for three years.

Source: University of Exeter