Extreme waves are intense and unexpected wavepackets ubiquitous in complex systems. In optics, these rogue waves are promising as robust and noise-resistant beams for probing and manipulating the underlying material. Localizing large optical power is crucial especially in biomedical systems, where, however, extremely intense beams have not yet been observed. We here discover that tumor-cell spheroids manifest optical rogue waves when illuminated by randomly modulated laser beams. The intensity of light transmitted through bio-printed three-dimensional tumor models follows a signature Weibull statistical distribution, where extreme events correspond to spatially-localized optical modes propagating within the cell network. Experiments varying the input beam power and size indicate that the rogue waves have a nonlinear origin. We show that these nonlinear optical filaments form high-transmission channels with enhanced transmission. They deliver large optical power through the tumor spheroid, and can be exploited to achieve a local temperature increase controlled by the input wave shape. Our findings shed light on optical propagation in biological aggregates and demonstrate how nonlinear extreme event formation allows light concentration in deep tissues, paving the way to using rogue waves in biomedical applications, such as light-activated therapies.
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