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Lasers in Medicine
The use of lasers in medicine continues to increase. The laser was invented about 50 years ago and it yielded the promise of using “light” in medical applications. Laser properties are unique and each laser works within a narrow wavelength emitting coherent light. Beams can be narrowly focused and by so doing the power is increased. This has allowed success with laser applications in medicine for both diagnosis and treatment. Areas in medicine that have benefited from the use of lasers include dermatology, oncology, ophthalmology, cosmetic surgery and many others, as well as biomedical research.
Regarding use in dermatology, one of the earliest success stories comes from Leon Goldman, who used a ruby laser to remove birthmarks and melanomas from the skin. Today lasers continue to be used for tumor removal, as well as tattoos and unwanted hair. It is widely agreed that a specialist cannot really practice dermatology—or even ophthalmology—today without the use of lasers. After Goldman’s discovery, Dr. Charles Campbell became the first doctor to treat a detached retina condition (1961). Campbell used the ruby (red wavelength light) laser but applications evolved to the use of argon lasers (green wavelength light) to treat areas where the retina was detached. Moreover, continued evolution of the use of lasers allow the retina to be reattached.
The fields of dermatology and ophthalmology have further advanced to through the use of excimer lasers, which emit in the ultraviolet range. This applications can reshape corneas so that individuals no longer need glasses. It is commonly called LASIK surgery and has been used cosmetically to remove spots and wrinkles from the face. Needless to say, these advancements have been popular with investors due to the revenue potential and high demand for the various treatments in the United States.
Today, laser applications play an essential role in imaging and diagnosis of early cancer detection. Scientists and doctors now rely on infrared spectroscopy using IR lasers to measure melanomas as early detection is vital to a patient’s survival. Laser-based systems are also starting to replace traditional x-rays, for example, in the area of mammography.
As studies focus on the best uses of lasers in medicine, it has been proven that optical coherence tomography (OCT) is very helpful. This imaging technique results in high resolution and multi-dimensional results and in ophthalmology can enable physicians to use the cross section view to diagnose serious diseases, such as glaucoma. Moreover, OCT now provides fiber optic imaging of arteries, linking more in depth analysis and work on heart vessels, without the trauma of cutting a patient open. Less invasive procedures are a key focus in today’s world of medicine. Lasers provide that option more than any other current application. In addition, research has shown that lasers remove much less tissue than standard operation procedures, thus allowing the patient a much faster recovery time.
Other advances include the miniaturization of lasers, which is continuing to pave the way for new applications. Along with technological advances the costs of lasers has decreased due to higher use; and, therefore, lasers are continuing to perform a greater role in medical equipment.
Laser applications in medicine now bridge the gamut. Urologists treat a variety of problems including strictures, warts, stones, obstructions and even enlarged prostates. Neurosurgeons rely on lasers for precision cutting in the delicate areas of the brain and spine. Dentists apply lasers for drilling, gum surgery and diagnostics. Also, veterinarians are using lasers for procedures in the areas of endoscopy and excision.
An exciting use of lasers in medicine has been the use of optical tweezers in biomedical research. The optical tweezers use the laser light to hold and rotate microscopic objects allowing the scientist to manipulate individual molecules by attaching them to a micron-sized bead and as a result of the laser beam’s focused power, the laser light will exert enough force on the bead to create an optical trap. This is what allows the researcher to hold the small particle in place for analysis.
Lasers are all about imaging and biomedical research encompasses a broad range of both in-vivo and in-vitro applications. Laser applications provide better, resolution, and faster processing, selective chromophore excitation—once again increasingly used for non-invasive biomedical diagnostic and therapeutic digital pathology techniques. Because lasers can focus very accurately on tiny areas, they can be used for very precise research as well as surgical work or for cutting through tissue (in place of a scalpel).
The use of lasers in medicine continue to allow surgeons to perform more complex tasks, reduces blood loss, decreases post-op discomfort and promotes recovery time. And the use of lasers in medicine is continuing to evolve. Experts in the field are predicting even greater uses for lasers in medicine as popularity, use and decreases in costs climb…