- Your News
By MARIAN GALBRAITH
Researchers at the University of Tennessee Space Institute (UTSI) have developed a new laser technique with potential applications that could change the face of medical imaging, dentistry and even brain surgery as we know it.
Dr. Christian Parigger, an Austrian-born physicist and UTSI professor who joined the Space Institute 25 years ago, along with professors Jacqueline Johnson and Robert Splinter, have developed the use of ultra-short, femtosecond laser radiation that can provide detailed biomedical imaging, as well as non-invasive surgery with accuracy on the molecular level.
“A femtosecond is one millionth of a nanosecond, which is one billionth of a second,” Parigger said, “so in other words, a femtosecond is one quadrillionth of a second.
“By focusing the laser beam comprised of these tiny, short-duration pulses, only a few femtoseconds each, and by using certain wavelengths, we can actually pass the laser beam through the skull, not only to image and map the brain tissue, but also to target and destroy cancerous tumors in the brain without damaging the surrounding tissue.”
According to the non-profit University of Tennessee Research Foundation (UTRF), which is interested in commercializing and licensing the technology, this new method overcomes limitations posed by traditional surgery, which may not always remove all the cancerous tissue, or radiation, which may also damage healthy portions of the brain.
Another benefit is that the procedure can be performed on an outpatient basis at a fraction of the time, cost and risks of traditional surgery, and, according to Parigger, should be able to provide real-time imaging during surgery from the same instrument.
“The beam is produced by a relatively small device with a power supply that’s on the order of the size of a shoebox,” Parigger said.
“At lower levels of power, it can provide the precise imaging needed to target the cancerous tissue, and then at higher levels of power, it can produce just enough heat to destroy the cancer without heating up the surrounding tissue at all.”
Parigger said the femtosecond pulsing offers a significant advantage over the longer-duration nanosecond pulsing, which produces too much heat to be safe for surgical procedures.
“Another advantage is that with this type of imaging, magnetic fields are not necessary at the magnitudes used in MRI technology,” he said.
“I’m not suggesting that this will replace MRI, at least not anytime soon, but it can enhance and augment MRI by providing mapping of soft tissue inside of solid tissue, such as the inside of a tooth, for example, as well as the destruction of cancerous tissue, such as brain tumors.”
Parigger and his colleagues at UTRF said they are actively seeking investment from the National Institutes of Health as well as private equity capital to explore long-term research and commercialization arrangements.
“We can simulate these types of procedures in our CLA (Center for Laser Applications) labs, but since we are not a medical facility, we can’t actually work with live tissue,” Parigger said.
“The next step would be to collaborate with a medical research facility, either in the university system or in private industry, to experiment with these procedures on mice, for example, and eventually on humans.”
Parigger said the imaging technology should not take as many years of testing to develop as will the surgical applications, which will have to pass more rigorous standards.
Other possible applications include ultra-precise machine tooling as well as military uses, such as being able to “see through” things and determine what may be inside.
For information on licensing arrangements, contact Maha Krishnamurthy at (865) 974-1882, or by email to firstname.lastname@example.org.