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Medical Applications of Laser Technology

By Janice Farris

Medical Applications of Laser Technology.png

Expanding Horizons:

While laser technology has been around since the 1960’s, new applications are constantly being developed that further foster the relationship between lasers and the medical world. You may have heard about laser technology being used for a variety of purposes such as hair removal, teeth whitening, LASIK eye surgery, or skin rejuvenation. However, there's a whole realm of innovative surgical uses that remain relatively uncharted, so let’s delve into some of the lesser-known applications.

 

Breaking Barriers:

Lithotripsy is a non-invasive surgery technique that allows urologists to break kidney stones into smaller pieces and remove the fragments with a suctioning device. This technique was initially pioneered in the 1830’s using a crushing instrument and later improved upon by employing shockwave devices in the 1980’s. Research is now finding that employing a thulium fiber laser has yielded fantastic results, allowing large kidney stones to be broken into dust particles which are easily removed from the patient. This modernized approach significantly reduces risk to the patient while allowing a higher rate of kidney stone removal than previously seen. 

 

Shaping the Future:

Photodynamic Therapy (PDT) is a treatment for cancerous and precancerous cells involving a combination of light and a photosensitizing agent. The treatment involves cancerous cells absorbing the non-toxic photosensitizing agent. Once a laser applies light to the specific area, the photosensitizing agent becomes toxic, killing the cancerous cells and occasionally triggering the immune system to fight the cancerous cells as well. This treatment is useful due to its incredibly precise nature and repeatability in the same affected area. This treatment is not a complete replacement for radiation therapy or surgery; however, its minimally invasive nature and lack of significant side effects when done properly has provided an additional outlet to combat cancerous cells.

 

A novel use for lasers currently is Photochemical Tissue Bonding (PTB). Functioning almost as the opposite to Photodynamic Therapy, PTB is a combination of applying light and a photosensitizing dye to encourage collagen connections and avoid suturing the affected areas. This is especially useful in areas that cannot be sutured such as lung or ocular tissue, as well as reducing scarring in the repaired area. This method follows on the heels of a current procedure known as Laser Tissue Welding (LTW), which is quite literally welding tissue together using a high-powered laser and a soldering biomaterial. Similarly, this allows surgeons to forgo suturing; however, PTB aims to avoid the high temperatures and possible thermal damage caused by LTW while still providing a strong adhesive solution.

 

This is just a brief introduction, as the world of laser applications in medicine is vast and continually evolving. There are many more promising medical uses of laser technology that we have not even touched on, such as a laser scanning microscope that works in tandem with fluorescent tumor markers to display cancerous cells in real time during a tumor removal surgery, the laser coronary angioplasty procedure to clear blocked arteries, or even Laser Assisted New Attachment Procedure (LANAP) that can combat periodontal disease. Furthermore, lasers are becoming ever more common place in precision manufacturing, which will directly enhance the quality of medical implants and surgical instruments. Researchers are constantly pushing the boundaries of laser technology, opening doors to innovative solutions that promise to revolutionize modern medicine.

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