Researchers at the University of Texas at Austin and Stanford University developed a “microscalpel”, an experimental system based on a super fast laser and something called “two-photon fluorescence microscopy”, to zap individual cells while preserving those around the target area.
To develop the miniature laser-surgery system, Ben-Yakar [Adela Ben-Yakar, mechanical engineering Assistant Professor at UT Austin –ed.] 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.”
Full story: Laser Surgery Probe Targets Individual Cancer Cells…
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Image: Adela Ben-Yakar (top), inventor of a new high-resolution laser microprobe, at work in her laboratory at the University of Texas at Austin. An image taken with the microprobe shows a breast-cancer cell embedded in collagen, before (middle) and after (bottom) it is destroyed by the probe.
Credit: University of Texas Engineering Public Affairs (top); Adela Ben-Yakar Group (middle and bottom)