Laser surgery probe targets individual cancer cells

June 24, 2008,

Mechanical engineering Assistant Professor Adela Ben-Yakar at The University of Texas at Austin has developed a laser "microscalpel" that destroys a single cell while leaving nearby cells intact, which could improve the precision of surgeries for cancer, epilepsy and other diseases.

"You can remove a cell with high precision in 3-D without damaging the cells above and below it," Ben-Yakar says. "And you can see, with the same precision, what you are doing to guide your microsurgery."

Femtosecond lasers produce extremely brief, high-energy light pulses that sear a targeted cell so quickly and accurately the lasers' heat has no time to escape and damage nearby healthy cells. As a result, the medical community envisions the lasers' use for more accurate destruction of many types of unhealthy material. These include small tumors of the vocal cords, cancer cells left behind after the removal of solid tumors, individual cancer cells scattered throughout brain or other tissue and plaque in arteries.

A commercially available femtosecond laser system and microscope was developed recently for LASIK and other eye surgeries, but the system's bulk limits its usefulness. Ben-Yakar's laboratory has overcome technological challenges to create a microscope system that can deliver femtosecond laser pulses up to 250 microns deep inside tissue. The system includes a tiny, flexible probe that focuses light pulses to a spot size smaller than human cells.

Ben-Yakar's experimental system and its use to destroy a single cell within layers of breast cancer cells grown in the laboratory is described in the June 23 issue of Optics Express.

Within a few years, Ben-Yakar expects to shrink the probe's 15-millimeter diameter three-fold, so it would match endoscopes used today for laparoscopic surgery. The probe tip she has developed also could be made disposable -- for use operating on people who have infectious diseases or destroying deadly viruses and other biomaterials.

To develop the miniature laser-surgery system, Ben-Yakar worked with co-author Olav Solgaard at Stanford University's Electrical Engineering Department to incorporate a miniaturized scanning mirror. Ben-Yakar and her graduate student Chris Hoy, another co-author, also used a novel fiber optic cable that can withstand intense light pulses traveling from an infrared, femtosecond laser. To make the intensity more manageable, they stretched the light pulses into longer, weaker pulses for traveling through the fiber. Then they used the fiber's unique properties to reconstruct the light into more intense, short light pulses before entering the tissue.

For the study, Ben-Yakar directed laser light at breast cancer cells in three-dimensional biostructures that mimic the optical properties of breast tissue. She has since studied laboratory-grown, layered cell structures that mimic skin tissue and other tissues.

Ben-Yakar is also investigating the use of nanoparticles to focus the light energy on targeted cells. In research published last year, she demonstrated that gold nanoparticles can function as nano-scale magnifying lenses, increasing the laser light reaching cells by at least an order of magnitude, or 10-fold.

"If we can consistently deliver nanoparticles to cancer cells or other tissue that we want to target, we would be able to remove hundreds of unwanted cells at once using a single femtosecond laser pulse," Ben-Yakar says. "But we would still be keeping the healthy cells alive while photo-damaging just the cells we want, basically creating nanoscale holes in a tissue."

Source: University of Texas at Austin

Explore further: Specific set of nerve cells controls seizures' spread through brain, study finds

Related Stories

Specific set of nerve cells controls seizures' spread through brain, study finds

February 15, 2018
Experimental activation of a small set of nerve cells in the brain prevents convulsive seizures in a mouse model of temporal lobe epilepsy, the most common form of epilepsy among human adults, according to a study by researchers ...

Deep-brain exploration with nanomaterial—A less invasive way to stimulate the mouse brain with light

February 8, 2018
Studying deep brain tissues noninvasively is difficult. Now, RIKEN scientists in Japan have developed a way to send light deep into the brain without invasive optical fibers. The method uses infrared light outside the head ...

Map of brain cell activity may help us control when we sleep

January 22, 2018
For many people who struggle to get a good night's rest, being able to switch on and off the brain circuits that control sleep would be a life-changer. The good news is that's exactly what scientists hope to do, but first ...

Body movements just need a 'puff' of dopamine to get started

January 31, 2018
From morning til night, we never stop executing movements at the right time and speed. But patients suffering from Parkinson's disease lose this natural control over their voluntary movements.

How to take action against acne

January 26, 2018
(HealthDay)—Waiting for acne to clear up on its own can be frustrating, especially for teens who are already self-conscious about their appearance.

New laser scanners shed light on eye disease before vision loss occurs

December 22, 2017
SFU engineering science professor Marinko Sarunic has developed a high resolution retinal imaging scanner that will one day revolutionize eye care, helping ophthalmologists diagnose eye diseases before vision loss occurs.

Recommended for you

Best of Last Year—The top Medical Xpress articles of 2017

December 20, 2017
It was a good year for medical research as a team at the German center for Neurodegenerative Diseases, Magdeburg, found that dancing can reverse the signs of aging in the brain. Any exercise helps, the team found, but dancing ...

Pickled in 'cognac', Chopin's heart gives up its secrets

November 26, 2017
The heart of Frederic Chopin, among the world's most cherished musical virtuosos, may finally have given up the cause of his untimely death.

Sugar industry withheld evidence of sucrose's health effects nearly 50 years ago

November 21, 2017
A U.S. sugar industry trade group appears to have pulled the plug on a study that was producing animal evidence linking sucrose to disease nearly 50 years ago, researchers argue in a paper publishing on November 21 in the ...

Female researchers pay more attention to sex and gender in medicine

November 7, 2017
When women participate in a medical research paper, that research is more likely to take into account the differences between the way men and women react to diseases and treatments, according to a new study by Stanford researchers.

Drug therapy from lethal bacteria could reduce kidney transplant rejection

August 3, 2017
An experimental treatment derived from a potentially deadly microorganism may provide lifesaving help for kidney transplant patients, according to an international study led by investigators at Cedars-Sinai.

Exploring the potential of human echolocation

June 25, 2017
People who are visually impaired will often use a cane to feel out their surroundings. With training and practice, people can learn to use the pitch, loudness and timbre of echoes from the cane or other sounds to navigate ...

1 comment

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

DGBEACH
not rated yet Jun 24, 2008
Cool

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.