We demonstrate the excitation of giant rogue waves of light inside human pancreatic tumor cells; they can be used for deep light transport and local heating for cancer treatment.
Rogue waves are intense and unexpected wavepackets ubiquitous in complex systems. In optics, they 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 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 rogue waves have a nonlinear origin. We show these optical filaments form high-transmission channels with enhanced transmission. They deliver large optical power through the tumor spheroid, which can be exploited to achieve a local temperature increase controlled by the input wave shape. Our findings shed new light on optical propagation in biological aggregates and demonstrate how extreme event formation allows light concentration in deep tissues, paving the way to using rogue waves in biomedical applications such as light-activated therapies