Research Highlight

Raman spectroscopy to diagnose thyroid cancer

doi:10.1038/nindia.2019.108 Published online 10 August 2019

Raman spectroscopy, named after Indian physicist Sir C V Raman and applied in many fields of science, has now found use in pathology.

Researchers have shown for the first time that this light-based technique – typically used to determine vibrational modes of molecules – can be used to differentiate between benign and cancerous thyroid cells with high accuracy, avoiding the use of the current invasive (and expensive) procedure1.

"Raman spectroscopy can identify cancer subtypes at the single-cell level," says the report by a multidisciplinary team led by James Chan from the University of California, Davis, in the United States.

For example, a lump in the neck is a common symptom of thyroid cancer. Ultrasound-guided fine needle aspiration biopsies are typically then used to check if it is cancerous and, in some cases, a surgical procedure known as a thyroidectomy is required.

"Raman spectroscopy is a non-invasive technique that requires no sample preparation to determine subtle differences in the molecular composition of complex samples such as cells," the authors say.

They applied this approach to individual cells isolated from 10 patient thyroid nodules and identified unique spectral differences that could distinguish cancerous cells from benign ones with 97 per cent diagnostic accuracy.

Raman spectroscopy could have a major impact in the field of pathology and could be developed into a new optical modality to diagnose other diseases, the authors say. 


1.  de Oliveira, M. A. S. et al. Hyperspectral Raman microscopy can accurately differentiate single cells of different human thyroid nodules. Biomed. Opt. Express 10, 4411-21 (2019) doi: