Femtosecond laser technology destroys cancerous tumors noninvasively

Researchers at the Center for Laser Applications at the University of Tennessee Space Institute (Tullahoma, TN) have developed a laser technology that finds, maps, and noninvasively destroys cancerous tumors. Their technology has the potential to be more accurate than current methods and to be done as an outpatient procedure, replacing intensive surgery.

Christian Parigger, associate professor of physics, and Jacqueline Johnson, associate professor of mechanical, aerospace, and biomedical engineering, along with Robert Splinter of Splinter Consultants, have developed the technology, which uses a femtosecond laser. The laser's high speed enables it to focus in on a specific region to find and acutely map a tumor.

“Using ultra-short light pulses gives us the ability to focus in a well-confined region and the ability for intense radiation,” explains Parigger. “This allows us to come in and leave a specific area quickly so we can diagnose and attack tumorous cells fast.”

Once the cancerous area is precisely targeted, only the intensity of the laser radiation needs to be turned up in order to irradiate the tumor. “Because the femtosecond laser radiation can be precisely focused both spatially and temporally, one can avoid heating up too many other things that you do not want heated,” says Parigger. “Using longer laser-light pulses is similar to leaving a light bulb on, which gets warm and can damage healthy tissue.”

The technology can be especially helpful to brain cancer victims. The imaging mechanism can noninvasively permeate thin layers of bone, such as the skull, and can help define a targeted treatment strategy for persistent cancer. The method also overcomes limitations posed by current treatments in which radiation may damage portions of healthy brain tissue. It also may overcome limitations of photodynamic therapy (PDT) that has restricted acceptance and surgery that may not be an option if not all carcinogenic tissue can be removed.

“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,” says Parigger. “This treatment overcomes difficulties in treating brain cancer and tumors. And it has the promise of application to other areas as well.”

The researchers are working to bring their technology to market with the University of Tennessee Research Foundation, a non-profit corporation responsible for commercializing the university’s technologies and supporting UT research.

For a video on the research team's technology, please visit http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9I2M_7oCOGs&feature=player_embedded.

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