January 15, 2016

Flexible film may lead to phone-sized cancer detector

(January 15, 2016)  A thin, stretchable film that coils light waves like a Slinky could one day lead to more precise, less expensive monitoring for cancer survivors.

The University of Michigan chemical engineers who developed the film say it could help patients get better follow-up treatment with less disruption to their everyday lives.

The film provides a simpler, more cost-effective way to produce circularly polarized light, an essential ingredient in the process that could eventually provide an early warning of cancer recurrence. The film is detailed in a paper published online in Nature Materials.

"More frequent monitoring could enable doctors to catch cancer recurrence earlier, to more effectively monitor the effectiveness of medications and to give patients better peace of mind. This new film may help make that happen," said Nicholas Kotov, the Joseph B. and Florence V. Cejka Professor of Engineering.

Circular polarization is similar to the linear version that's common in things like polarized sunglasses. But instead of polarizing light in a two-dimensional wave, circular polarization coils it into a three-dimensional helix shape that can spin in either a clockwise or counterclockwise direction.

Circular polarization is invisible to the naked eye, and it's rare in nature. That makes it useful in an up-and-coming cancer detection process that looks to be able to spot telltale signs of the disease in blood. Currently in the research stage, the process requires large, expensive machines to generate the circularly polarized light. Kotov believes the new film could provide a simpler, less expensive way to induce polarization.

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