Scientists developing new laser system that can zap cancer cells within the width of a human hair without damaging healthy surrounding tissue

 A new laser system that can zap cancer cells that are smaller than the width of a human hair without damaging the surrounding healthy tissue is being developed.

Experts at Edinburgh's Heriot-Watt University have been given £1.2 million by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) for the project.

The new system will be based around ultrafast, 'picosecond' lasers that deliver energy in a series of pulses that are each just one trillionth of a second long. 


Laser surgery expert Jonathan Shephard and colleagues have already demonstrated that the treatment concept can be successfully used on colorectal cancers.

They will now be now be working with clinicians at the University of Leeds and Leeds Teaching Hospital NHS Trust to apply the technique to brain cancers.

A new laser system that can zap cancer cells that are smaller than the width of a human hair without damaging the surrounding healthy tissue (as pictured) is being developed

A new laser system that can zap cancer cells that are smaller than the width of a human hair without damaging the surrounding healthy tissue (as pictured) is being developed

'Previously we focused on colorectal cancers. We proved in the lab that our laser system can remove cancer cells in a way that restricts damage to the surrounding, healthy cells — within the width of a human hair,' said Professor Shephard.

'Because the laser pulses are so short, there is no time for heat to burn the surrounding tissue, which is what happens with current surgical tools.'

'We're building on our understanding of lasers in colorectal cancer surgery towards clinical application and working on adapting it for brain, head and neck cancers — where it could have huge benefits for patients.'


'The most important principle of any cancer surgery is to ensure that all cancer cells are removed; failure to do so will result in the cancer coming back,' he continued.

'This is an ultimate test of precision, even microscopic loss of healthy tissue and damage to nearby vital structures can have severe functional consequences and a huge impact on quality of life.'

The researchers will also be working to develop a flexible, optical fibre-based system that can target and remove cancer cells which a precision that is two orders of magnitude smaller than current technology.

'Previously we focused on colorectal cancers. We proved in the lab that our laser system can remove cancer cells in a way that restricts damage to the surrounding, healthy cells — within the width of a human hair [as depicted],' said Professor Shephard

'Previously we focused on colorectal cancers. We proved in the lab that our laser system can remove cancer cells in a way that restricts damage to the surrounding, healthy cells — within the width of a human hair [as depicted],' said Professor Shephard

'Surgical lasers open up exciting new approaches for cancer surgery,' said David Jayne, who is a consultant surgeon at the Leeds Teaching Hospital NHS Trust.

'The precision of a laser combined with imaging to accurately discriminate cancer from normal tissue will greatly enhance the ability of surgeons to completely remove cancers with minimal side-effects for patients.'

Professor Shephard and his team will be working on developing the new laser treatment system over the next three years.

Scientists developing new laser system that can zap cancer cells within the width of a human hair without damaging healthy surrounding tissue Scientists developing new laser system that can zap cancer cells within the width of a human hair without damaging healthy surrounding tissue Reviewed by STATION GOSSIP on 08:30 Rating: 5

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