Scientists at the University of Texas at Austin have 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. The device uses femtosecond lasers, which 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.
"You can remove a cell with high precision in 3-D without damaging the cells above and below it," said mechanical engineering Assistant Professor Adela Ben-Yakar, who developed the scalpel. Ben-Yakar's laboratory created a microscope system that uses a tiny, flexible probe to focus laser light pulses up to 250 microns deep inside tissue, to a spot size smaller than human cells.
The medical community envisions the lasers being used to accurately destroy many types of unhealthy material. These include small tumors of the vocal cord, cancer cells left behind after the removal of solid tumors, individual cancer cells scattered throughout the brain, or other tissue and plaque in arteries.