Finding cancer cells might one day involve shining a laser onto a certain region of the body, and watching the cancerous cells light up.

Researchers have developed a new type of nanoparticle that they call “nanostars,” which accumulate in tumor cells and scatter light, making the tumors easy to see with a special camera.

The particles are each about 140 nanometers (0.000005 inches) across, and consist of eight-point gold stars that are surrounded by a layer of dye and encased in a sphere of silica and a polymer. The researchers’ method of making the stars ensures that all of the particles are nearly identical, which is important because earlier efforts to make such nanoparticles weren’t able to produce the consistent shapes needed, said Dr. Moritz Kircher, a molecular imaging specialist at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center in New York City.

via ‘Nanostar’ Particles Make Cancer Cells Light Up.