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Health, Science, Environment

Missouri S&T researcher is helping develop laser surgery of the future

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Jonathan Ahl
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St. Louis Public Radio
Missouri S&T physics professor Alexey Yamilov demonstrates the concept behind his research by shining a laser pointer through sheets of paper.

ROLLA – Researchers at Missouri University of Science and Technology have found a way to measure the effectiveness of light energy, which will help to better use lasers in treating tumors.

Missouri S&T physics professor Alexy Yamilov, along with a team of researchers led by Yale University, published an article in the journal Nature Physics outlining the research.

The team shows how to determine the maximum amount of light energy that can be focused at certain depths of materials.

The findings can be used by light-based medical technology firms developing new methods to better assess how much energy they can use, and whether the technique will work.

“It tells them how the energy is going to be distributed inside, and under the best conditions, so they can estimate whether it will be safe to do this,” Yamilov said.

He said the best analogy to understand the research is using a laser pointer and sheets of paper.

“The laser is visible on the other side of one sheet of paper. But with every sheet I add, the light is less visible, and where it ends up on the sheet moves slightly,” Yamilov said. “It’s very similar to how light travels through layers of tissue.”

In addition to the amount of light energy available to excise a tumor, Yamilov said there is more information available to make sure a procedure doesn’t hurt healthy tissue.

Since light waves are so small, the more precise information could be used to help find ways to take on procedures as focused as targeting a single neuron.

“If we know how much energy gets through the tissue, this will be important for us to know if it is doable,” said Yale physics professor Hui Cao. “For a given energy input, do we have enough energy at our target to blast something or trigger something or whatever we wish to do?”

The researchers have determined what is possible within the laws of physics. Now, it is up to engineers and biologists to develop the equipment and procedures to take advantage of it.

Yamliov said they have received numerous inquiries about the research and hope to see it put into action as soon as possible.

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