Researcher: New technology can "seek and destroy" cancer cells

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WVLT) -- Researchers at the Center for Laser Applications at the University of Tennessee Space Institute in Tullahoma are harnessing the power of lasers to "seek and destroy" cancerous tumors.

Their new technology uses a femtosecond laser - which pulses at one-quadillionth of a second - to find and map the tumor.

"Using ultra-short light pulses gives us the ability to focus in a well confined region and the ability for intense radiation," said Parigger. "This allows us to come in and leave a specific area quickly so we can diagnose and attack tumorous cells fast."

After targeting the tumor, they only need to increase the intensity of of the laser radiation to burn off the tumor. Researchers said their method is more exact than current ones and could be done as an outpatient procedure, replacing intensive surgery.

"Because the femtosecond laser radiation can be precisely focused both spatially and temporally, one can avoid heating up too many other things that you do not want heated," said Parigger. "Using longer laser-light pulses is similar to leaving a light bulb on, which gets warm and can damage healthy tissue."

Researchers pointed out that their new technology would be especially useful to brain cancer victims, since their imaging mechanism can non-invasively permeate thin bones, like the skull, and can help define a targeted treatment strategy for persistent cancer. They also said it would overcome limitations of current treatments in which radiation may damage portions of healthy brain tissue as well as the limitations of photodynamic therapy that has "restricted acceptance and surgery that may not be an option if not all carcinogenic tissue can be removed."

"If you have a cancerous area such as in the brain, the notion is if you see something and take care of it, it won't spread," said Parigger. "This treatment overcomes difficulties in treating brain cancer and tumors. And it has the promise of application to other areas, as well."

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