Scientists are working on a system that could revolutionize cancer eradication.
The new system could help surgeons remove cancer more precisely and safely.
The new system, developed by experts at Heriot-Watt University in Edinburgh, will help surgeons differentiate and remove cancer cells at much better resolution without damaging the healthy surrounding tissue.
Professor Jonathan Shephard has received £ 1.2 million from the Research Council for Engineering and Physical Sciences (EPSRC) to develop the system.
It will be based on ultrafast picosecond lasers that deliver energy in a series of pulses that are a trillionth of a second long.
The team has already proven the concept works in colorectal cancer and is now working with clinicians from the University of Leeds and the Leeds Teaching Hospital NHS Trust to develop the new system for brain tumors.
Professor Shephard said, “We used to focus on colon cancer. We have laboratory proven that our laser system can remove cancer cells in a way that limits damage to surrounding healthy cells – within the width of a human hair.
“Because the laser pulses are so short, there is no time for heat to burn the surrounding tissue, which is the case with current surgical instruments.
“We are building on our understanding of lasers in colorectal cancer surgery for clinical use and are working to adapt them to brain, head and neck cancers, where they could be of enormous benefit to patients.
“The most important principle of any cancer surgery is to make sure that all cancer cells are removed. Otherwise, the cancer will come back.
“This is the ultimate test of precision. Even microscopic loss of healthy tissue and damage to nearby vital structures can have serious functional consequences and have an enormous impact on the quality of life.”
The team will also focus on developing a flexible fiberglass-based system that can target and remove cancer cells two orders of magnitude smaller than current technology.
Professor David Jayne, Consultant Surgeon at Leeds Teaching Hospital NHS Trust, said, “Surgical lasers are opening up exciting new approaches to cancer surgery.
“The precision of a laser combined with imaging to accurately distinguish cancer and normal tissue improves surgeons’ ability to completely remove cancers with minimal side effects for patients.”
The team will work on developing the system for the next three years.