Metastasis causes as many as 90% of cancer-related deaths, especially for the deadliest skin cancer, melanoma. Since hematogenous dissemination of circulating tumor cells is the major route of metastasis, detection and destruction of circulating tumor cells are vital for impeding metastasis and improving patient prognosis. Exploiting the exquisite intrinsic optical absorption contrast of circulating melanoma cells, we developed dual-wavelength photoacoustic flow cytography coupled with a nanosecond-pulsed melanoma-specific laser therapy mechanism. We have successfully achieved in vivo label-free imaging of rare single circulating melanoma cells in both arteries and veins of mice. Further, the photoacoustic signal from a circulating melanoma cell immediately hardware-triggers a lethal pinpoint laser irradiation to kill it on the spot in a thermally confined manner without causing collateral damage. A pseudo-therapy study including both in vivo and in vitro experiments demonstrated the performance and the potential clinical value of our method, which can facilitate early treatment of metastasis by clearing circulating tumor cells from vasculature.
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