Scientists build lasers using human embryonic cells

U.S. scientists reported last week they have been able to develop potentially “self-healing” lasers using embryonic cells.
Mon Jun 20, 2011 - 5:34 pm EST

June 20, 2011 ( – U.S. scientists reported last week they have been able to develop potentially “self-healing” lasers that could be used in the human body for treating diseases such as cancer.  The lasers, however, use human embryonic cells in a controversial experiment that has not yet been approved by the FDA.

The experiment findings were published this month in the Nature Photonics journal, by physicists Malte C. Gather and Soek Hyun Yun of the Wellman Center for Photomedicine at the Massachusetts General Hospital. 

“This is the first time that we have used biological materials to build a laser and generate light from something that is living,” Yun told

To date, lasers have been made using inorganic, synthetic materials, such as semiconductors or carbon dioxide. 

The “living laser,” however, uses human embryonic kidney cells and combines them with DNA in a petri dish, that the scientists later genetically modified to produce a green, fluorescent protein (GFP), similar to one that illuminates a jellyfish. 

Although routinely used in experimental science, use of human embryonic kidney cells continues to be a source of controversy, as they are harvested from living human embryos in a process that kills them. Their is use uniformly condemned by pro-life advocates as being equivalent to abortion.

The scientists report, “We show that fluorescent proteins in cells are a viable gain medium for optical amplification, and report the first successful realization of biological cell lasers based on green fluorescent protein (GFP). We demonstrate in vitro protein lasers using recombinant GFP solutions and introduce a laser based on single live cells expressing GFP.”

Using the genetically modified human embryonic cells placed between two mirrors, the scientists created a laser by charging the fluorescent proteins in the cells with a light source which caused the GFP in the cells to bounced back and forth between the mirrors, causing the laser by a wave of photons.

The researchers hope to develop ways of making the lasers biocompatible so they could be placed in a human body for photodynamic therapy, which is a treatment for diseases like cancer.


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