Scalpel is Giving Way to a New Generation of Lasers

Laser technology has revolutionised the world of medicine in ways never before thought of. More and more often the scalpel is giving way to a new generation of lasers. Now the FAST-DOT project, backed by the EU with EUR 10.1 million in financing, is underway to develop a new line of lasers for biomedical applications.

Led by a team located at the University of Dundee, 18 European partners from 12 countries will pool their knowledge and resources to develop the next generation of lasers which will be used for biomedical applications. Their combined efforts mean that they are able to conduct nearly 100 person years of work in a fraction of the time.

According to Professor Edik Rafailov of the University of Dundee, 'This project will revolutionise the use of lasers in the biomedical field, providing both practitioners and researchers with pocket sized ultra high performance lasers at a substantially lower cost, which will make their widespread use affordable.'

The new lasers that will be developed will not only be much smaller but also more energy efficient than current lasers in use. Current lasers are not portable and are heavy on energy consumption. The new lasers will be designed for use in microscopy and nanosurgery, where high precision cutting, imaging and treatment therapies will be made possible.

According to Neil Stewart, FAST-DOT project manager, 'The objectives of the project are to use a technology called quantum dot materials, probably gallium arsenide, and exploit their lasing characteristics for use in biomedical applications, such as laser tweezing for microsurgery.'

The new lasers will mean that surgeons and life scientists will have access to much higher performance and lower cost lasers than are currently available and will open up exciting new application areas for lasers in biomedicine. There is also hope that new lasers under development will also decrease in size.

Currently, lasers are roughly the size of a shoebox. FAST-DOT hopes to bring down the size to that of a matchbox while bringing the cost down to a tenth of what they currently are.

Dr Stewart also claimed that the new lasers would be applicable in the field of micro-surgery. 'With these lasers we ought to be able to take that down to about a very few microns. And because of the differences in the way the energy is controlled, it enables us to deliver very controlled amounts of energy so we are also going to be investigating things like tissue welding,' he said.

Laser systems for use in medicine were initially seen as a surgical tool which is minimally invasive, and were used for the ablation, cutting, or coagulation of tissue. As a result, their earliest application was witnessed in the field of general surgery and laparoscopic surgery. By the 1990s lasers were gaining popularity in the field of ophthalmology for sight correction.

Now however lasers are being used in a diagnostic sense thanks to their non-invasive capabilities as well as being utilized for the detection and monitoring of certain diseases.

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