How does photonics help in cancer diagnostics?

Photo of the microscope and hands putting the pan for analysis

The team from the Warsaw University of Technology is responsible for the use of nanocarbons in the project, photo Pixabay

Specialists from Belgium and Poland are working on a platform that will detect cancer at a very early stage. For this they use the unique properties of light and carbon nanomaterials. Researchers from the Faculty of Physics of the Warsaw University of Technology are involved in the project.

Optical fibers are primarily associated with applications in telecommunications, but in recent years they have also become more and more popular in life sciences. When properly configured, they are used as highly sensitive sensors for detecting even small numbers of biological cells, or as flexible light sources that enable the examination of tissues. This allows, among others, for the early diagnosis of diseases.

It turns out that new carbon-based materials (such as graphene and carbon nanotubes) interact with light in such an unusual way that they can produce even better sensors and light sources.

CHARMING project sets out to combine these unique properties of optical fibers and carbon nanomaterials. An international and interdisciplinary team is building a platform with a new class of sensors and systems that can be applied to biomedical detection and imaging.  This applies in particular to the recognition of cancer cells with unprecedented sensitivity.

The work is performed by specialists from four Belgian universities (Vrije Universiteit Brussel, Universiteit Antwerpen, Université Libre de Bruxelles and Université de Mons) and two Polish institutions: the Warsaw University of Technology and the Łukasiewicz Research Network - the Institute of Microelectronics and Photonics.

A team of five from the Faculty of Physics of the Warsaw University of Technology is involved in the project: Iwona Pasternak, PhD (PI), Włodzimierz Strupiński, PhD Eng. (co-PI), Karolina Czerniak-Łosiewicz, MSc. Our researchers are responsible for the use of nanocarbons.

– We manufacture and characterize two-dimensional materials, in particular graphene and molybdenum sulphide (MoS2) on optical fibers and photonic chips – says Iwona Pasternak, PhD.

Researchers from the Warsaw University of Technology have been working on these materials for years.

–  Graphene consists of a sheet-like single layer of carbon atoms, while nanotubes are nano-scale hollow tubes, coiled from the same carbon sheet,” says Pasternak, PhD . –  These unique materials interact with light to amplify the electric field and absorb a small amount of incoming light (2.3%). This allows for more sensitive sensors.

When it comes to diagnosing cancer, when the timing of the disease is so important, it is often a key consideration.

More information about the project at