University of Missouri scientists are working to bring functional femtosecond lasers [as in beams] out of the real of sci-fi and into the real world of medicine. Lead researcher, and professor of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering, Robert Tzou explains how this new technology could revolutionize everything from dentistry to oncology to joint replacement surgery.
What makes the femtosecond laser different from other lasers is its unique capacity to interact with its target without transferring heat to the area surrounding its mark. The intensity of the power gets the job done while the speed ensures heat does not spread. Results are clean cuts, strong welds and precision destruction of very small targets, such as cancer cells, with no injury to surrounding materials. Tzou hopes that the laser would essentially eliminate the need for harmful chemical therapy used in cancer treatments.
“If we have a way to use the lasers to kill cancer cells without even touching the surrounding healthy cells, that is a tremendous benefit to the patient,” Tzou said. “Basically, the patient leaves the clinic immediately after treatment with no side effects or damage. The high precision and high efficiency of the UUL allows for immediate results.”
Practical applications of this type of laser also include, but aren’t limited to, the ability to create super-clean channels in a silicon chip. [Ed note: we can think of more applications later…] That process can allow doctors to analyze blood one cell at a time as cells flow through the channel. The laser can be used in surgery to make more precise incisions that heal faster and cause less collateral tissue damage. In dentistry, the laser can treat tooth decay without harming the rest of the tooth structure.
Associate Professor Yuwen Zhang and Professor Jinn-Kuen Chen recently received a grant from the National Science Foundation to use the laser to “sinter” metal powders—turn them into a solid, yet porous, mass using heat but without massive liquefaction—a process which can help improve the bond between joint implants and bone.
“With the laser, we can melt a very thin strip around titanium micro- and nanoparticles and ultimately control the porosity of the bridge connecting the bone and the alloy,” Zhang said. “The procedure allows the particles to bond strongly, conforming to the two different surfaces.”