The University of Texas at Austin has developed a small, flexible endoscopic medical device fitted with a femtosecond laser that can remove diseased or damaged tissue while leaving healthy cells untouched.
Using an imaging technique known as two-photon fluorescence the endoscope’s microscope uses infrared light to penetrates up to 1mm into the tissue allowing surgeons to target individual cells or even cell nuclei. As the laser’s pulses are 200 quadrillionths of a second in duration its bursts are powerful but they can spare surrounding tissue. Its optics consist of commercial lenses, a specialised fibre to deliver the ultra-short laser pulses to the microscope, and a 750µm micro-electro-mechanical system scanning mirror.
‘All the optics we tested can go into a real endoscope,’ said Adela Ben-Yakar, the University’s principal investigator for the project. ‘The probe has proven that it’s functional and feasible and can be [manufactured] commercially.’
The system is ready to move into commercialisation according to Ben-Yakar. His group is currently collaborating on treating scarred vocal folds with a probe tailored for the larynx, and nanosurgery on brain neurons and synapses. However, the femtosecond laser endoscope will need at least five years of clinical testing before it receives approval by the US government’s Federal Drug Administration for human use. The entire endoscope probe package, which is 9.6mm in circumference and 23mm long, can fit into large endoscopes, such as those used for colonoscopies. The new design has so far been laboratory-tested on pig vocal chords and the tendons of rat tails, and an earlier prototype was laboratory-tested on human breast cancer cells. The work was supported by the National Science Foundation and by the University of Texas Board of Regents Texas Ignition Fund.