Scientists at the Laboratory for Attosecond Physics have developed a unique laser technology for the analysis of the molecular composition of biological samples. It is capable of detecting minimal variations in the chemical make up of organic systems.
At the biochemical level, organisms can be thought of as complex collections of different species of molecules. In the course of their metabolism, biological cells synthesize chemical compounds, and modify them in multifarious ways. Many of these products are released into the intercellular medium and accumulate in body fluids like the blood. One major aim of biomedical research is to understand what these immensely complex mixtures of molecules can tell us about the state of the organism concerned. All differentiated cell types contribute to this ‘soup’. But precancerous and malignant cells add their own specific molecular markers – and these provide the first indications of the presence of tumour cells in the body. So far, however, very few of these indicator molecules have been identified, and those that are known appear in minuscule amounts in biological samples. This makes them extremely difficult to detect. It is assumed that many of the most informative molecular signatures comprise combinations of compounds that belong to all the various types of molecules found in cells – proteins, sugars, fats and their diverse derivatives. In order to define them, a single analytical method that is versatile and sensitive enough to detect and measure the levels of all of them is needed.