Space Institute’s Laser May Provide Out-Patient Tumor Removal

By Mo Mozuch on July 24, 2012 6:20 PM EDT

photo:aiaa.org
photo:aiaa.org

University of Tennessee researchers have developed a laser technology that can locate, map and non-invasively eliminate malignant tumors in the body.  The Center for Laser Applications at UT's Space Institute in Tullahoma said in a press release the laser goes on a "seek and destroy" mission for tumors.

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The technology uses a femtosecond laser, a device that emits pulses at speeds of one-quadrillionth of a second.  Researchers say that because the laser can be "precisely focused both spatially and temporally" a burst in intensity is all that is required to irradiate small, specific areas within the body. 

Longer laser-pulses, "[are] similar to leaving a light bulb on, which gets warm and can damage healthy tissue," said Christian Parigger, associate professor of physics, and one of the scientists credited with inventing the device. Jacqueline Johnson, associate professor of mechanical, aerospace, and biomedical engineering, and Robert Splinter of Splinter Consultants are also credited as inventors. They hope this technology will eliminate the need for invasive surgical procedures to remove tumors and make the treatment an out-patient procedure.

The most-promising use for the device appears to be brain cancer treatment. The imaging mechanism in the device can penetrate the skull and give doctors a clearer image of where tumors spread. It also allows for such precise treatments that much smaller areas of brain tissue will be affected by radiation, a limitation current treatments must contend with.

"If you have a cancerous area such as in the brain, the notion is if you see something and take care of it, it won't spread," said Parigger. "This treatment overcomes difficulties in treating brain cancer and tumors. And it has the promise of application to other areas, as well."

The next step for the device is to bring the technology to market with the help of the University of Tennessee Research Foundation, a non-profit that commercializes UT's tech and research.

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