Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Using lasers to fight cancer

There are many interesting new forms of cancer treatment that are currently being investigated and tested. Examples include the use of nanoparticles or magnetism to burn away tumours. Even breast milk or chickens can help us treat cancer, surprisingly. Yet another novel attempt makes use of lasers to destroy malicious and cancerous cells. The technology, developed by the University of Tennessee, goes on a "seek and destroy" mission.

According to the scientists, that released a video demonstration, their technique works with a so-called femtosecond laser. Their name refers to the speed at which it can shoot light pulses, which have a duration expressed in femtoseconds, or quadrillionths of a second. "Using ultra-short light pulses gives us the ability to focus in a well confined region and the ability for intense radiation", one of the lead scientists said.

Ultra-short pulses of light derived from the femtosecond laser helped the scientists to accurately pinpoint the location of the tumour, which means the beams are suitable for diagnosis. But that is not its only feature: the femtosecond laser also has the possibility to burn away the tumour by making the associated light beams more intense. By increasing the energy level, heat also increases and the tumour is consequently burned away.

Femtosecond lasers have the ability to fire their beams very precisely. That means the scientists only heat up the 'bad' part. Surrounding healthy tissue, which normally suffers a great deal during conventional radiotherapy, manages to stay alive, reducing the side effects. Because the laser beams can protrude deep into the body, it can help patients with difficult to reach tumours, such as people suffering from brain cancer.

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