A cut above: Scientists propose a ‘curved’ laser scalpel for more complex surgeries

TOMSK, Russia — Despite sounding like a gadget out of Star Wars, cylindrical laser scalpels are already a very real surgical tool in emergency rooms all over the world. Now, a new study is proposing to throw surgeons a curve, literally. Researchers in Russia are looking at the development of curved laser that can do the things its straight-line counterpart can’t.

Scientists from Tomsk Polytechnic and Saratov State Universities say that a laser scalpel with a “blade” shape will make it possible to use such devices in many more medical procedures than current cylindrical models. This hooked laser beam is also two times thinner than today’s laser scalpels.

Via laser energy, physicians use these scalpels to cut or remove tissue within limited skin areas. The lasers are capable of reaching temperatures over 750 degrees Fahrenheit and can thus burn out targeted areas instantly. Usually, doctors use lasers to “seal” small blood vessels located near incisions. In short, laser scalpels are a convenient way for doctors and surgeons to make super thin incisions while minimizing loss of blood. Laser scalpels also emit some radiation, but it is totally sterile.

“A conventional surgical scalpel has a variety of blade shapes to suit specific applications. Laser scalpels do not have such a variety, or rather, there is only one form of radiation localization – axisymmetric. Therefore, we proposed a simple way to make the tip shape curved using a photonic ‘hook’. This is a new type of curved self-accelerating light beam, shaped like a hook. Earlier, we theoretically predicted and experimentally confirmed the existence of such a ‘hook’,” says Igor Minin, project manager and Professor of the Department of Electronic Engineering at TPU, in a university release.

How do researchers plan on creating a curved laser scalpel?

One of the most essential components of a traditional laser scalpel is the fiber that facilitates the transmittance of laser energy. The end result being a potent laser beam featuring a combination of multiple wavelengths.

“To bend the laser beam, we proposed one of the simplest possible solutions: place an amplitude or phase mask at the end of the fiber. It is a thin plate made of metal or a dielectric material like glass. The mask redistributes the energy flow inside the fiber and forms a curved region of radiation localization at the end of the fiber, that is, a photonic ‘hook’,” Minin explains.

Researchers’ simulations proved that a curved blade measuring three millimeters in length, 500 microns in thickness (one human hair is roughly 100 microns thick), and a wavelength of 1,550 nanometers, is possible.

“In other words, we add one small element, without affecting the general design and performance of the device, and get changes in the area of the fiber end alone (at the tip). The shape and thickness of the blade is changing: it is approximately two times thinner than the axisymmetric option,” Minin concludes.

Now that they’ve successfully developed the curved laser blade in theory and via simulations, the next step is to get to work on really creating one in an experimental setting. Work to that end is already underway in collaboration with scientists at National Yang-Ming University in Taiwan.

The study is published in the Journal of Biophotonics.

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John Anderer

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