GHOSTBUSTERS-style laser traps could help scientists make new discoveries about the mysteries contained within living organisms, it is claimed.

Researchers at Dundee University have sent microscopic devices into living tissues using hair-thin optic fibres in a scientific first.

While it may sound like something from the world of science fiction, it is hoped that the team’s work will have major real-world impact, potentially heralding new hope in the fight against cancer and other serious conditions.

The minute gizmos, described as tiny equivalents of the proton pack seen in the hit Hollywood film franchise, are so small that they can be used to study the mechanics of cells and bio-molecules deep inside living organisms.

The advance ends the reliance on “bulky” optics that limited the ability of researchers to get the access they needed.

It relies on a specially developed class of multimode fibres capable of previously unattainable levels of light concentration.

The light is used to confine micro-objects such as strands of DNA for study, with multiple laser traps positioned with exact precision.

The result allows unprecedented insight into the way cells and bio-molecules operate. The process uses holographic beam-shaping to deploy the traps, and is hi-tech enough to make spook squad inventor Dr Egon Spengler – or Dr Jillian Holtzman, to viewers of the 2016 reboot – take note.

Professor Tomas Cizmar said: “Just like the proton packs used by the Ghostbusters, optical traps confine and manipulate objects, only remotely from the complexity of living organisms.

“To the best of our knowledge, this work is the first demonstration of three-dimensional confinement and manipulation of micro-objects by light via an optical fibre, which opens the door to exciting exploitations of optical traps in vivo.

“This represents a step-change for future research because the primary application of optical traps is the study of intracellular machineries, which are overactive in cancer, and for which a new generation of anti-cancer drugs are being developed.

“Now we can study these processes in the environment of complex living tissue and organisms rather than artificial conditions.”

The instrument’s footprint is just half the thickness of a human hair.

Cizmar’s colleague Professor Sir Alfred Cuschieri added: “There is significant potential for better understanding of mechanical actions of biological molecules.

“Thanks to optical tweezers, we now have a much better idea about functions of muscles at molecular level as well as genetic processes and their disruptions.

“Now we have the chance to access real depths of living organisms and, without affecting the processes of life, perform elaborate studies of mechano-chemistry at the single molecule level, all in its natural environment.”

The development is the result of collaboration with experts from the Czech Republic and Germany.

A research paper is published in the latest edition of specialist journal Nature Photonics.