New research led by the University of St Andrews has claimed that a marriage of sound and light could hold the key to diagnosis of the early stages of various diseases, including cancer.

The ability to hold and image objects has had a profound impact across biomedical sciences, especially those focused upon disease identification, neuroscience and developmental biology, and the research paves the way to move to a host of new studies for advanced drug discovery and combating conditions such as coronary heart disease.

The international research team, in collaboration with the University of Edinburgh, University of Glasgow, Illinois Wesleyan University, USA and the University of Western Australia, Perth, developed an innovative new way to hold samples using sound whilst they are gently imaged using light.

The innovative approach developed by the team uses sound waves to grip small samples. The sound wave or acoustic beam impinging on an object can result in a “radiation force” as the object scatters the sound waves. If the beam is suitably shaped, this force can be used to immobilise an object.

The normal way to immobilise the object would be to use a gel but is not compatible with many organisms.

Professor Kishan Dholakia, from the University of St Andrews School of Physics and Astronomy, said: “This is a new way to perform drug-based studies for cardiovascular disease and developmental biology. We anticipate this approach can also be used for high throughput drug discovery, an important topic for future healthcare.”