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Laser “microscalpel” to target individual cancer cells

Mechanical engineering Assistant Professor Adela Ben-Yakar at The University of Texas at Austin has developed a laser “microscalpel” that destroys a single cell while leaving nearby cells intact, which could improve the precision of surgeries for cancer, epilepsy and other diseases.

“You can remove a cell with high precision in 3-D without damaging the cells above and below it,” Ben-Yakar says. “And you can see, with the same precision, what you are doing to guide your microsurgery.”

Femtosecond lasers produce extremely brief, high-energy light pulses that sear a targeted cell so quickly and accurately the lasers’ heat has no time to escape and damage nearby healthy cells. As a result, the medical community envisions the lasers’ use for more accurate destruction of many types of unhealthy material. These include small tumors of the vocal cords, cancer cells left behind after the removal of solid tumors, individual cancer cells scattered throughout brain or other tissue and plaque in arteries.

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