Could fighting on the nanoscale work against cancer?
In a small laboratory, not far from southern California’s Pacific coastline, Dmitri Lapotko is using lasers to conduct on-demand explosions on a scale almost infinitely small. These explosions are carefully designed to obliterate cancer cells at a nanoscale, with a level of efficiency and safety which far outmatches the current treatments of choice. The technology, pioneered by the company Masimo, is about to undergo clinical trials for both the diagnosis and treatment of cancer in the next few years. But the story of how the idea was first conceived originates from one of most defining moments of the 20th century.
In the late 1980s, Lapotko was a laser weapons physicist for the Soviet Union, living and working in what is now Belarus. His particular expertise was in using airborn ultrasound to steer the laser beam of a weapon in the upper atmosphere, as the Soviets tried to match the threat of Ronald Reagan’s Strategic Defense Initiative, nicknamed ‘Star Wars.’
But with the end of the Berlin Wall and the subsequent disintegration of the Soviet Union, many weapons scientists found themselves left out in the cold, surplus to requirements and with few career prospects.
“This was a bitter time for many Soviet physicists,” Lapotko remembers. “We realised our work was not about science or the future, but politics.”
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