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New laser microscope could be used to detect and treat diseases like skin cancer

Posted May 20, 2019

Surgeries require cutting, right? Scalpels were invented for a reason. However, a new invention from The University of British Columbia changes this perspective. Scientists have developed a specialized microscope, which could be used as a diagnostics tool as well as perform incredibly precise surgeries without cutting skin. This could revolutionize the treatment of such diseases as skin cancer.

This is a dermatoscope – old-school device used to check the skin. The problem is that it requires a lot of time. Image credit: Frank33 via Wikimedia (CC BY-SA 3.0)

This invention is actually a specialized type of multiphoton excitation microscope. It uses an ultrafast infrared laser beam to image living tissue up to about one millimetre in depth.  As researchers describe it, it is able to scan the tissue really quickly and enables doctors to notice any abnormalities.

However, it is not just a diagnostics tool – it can also perform treatment procedures. Doctors will only need to intensify the heat of the laser, which will allow altering the pathway of blood vessels without impacting any of the surrounding vessels or tissues.

Image credit: UBC

Image credit: UBC

The smaller the area of the human body, the harder it is to research. Scientists were hoping to use a laser microscope to take a peek at what is happening just below the surface of the skin. That is why they created this device – it allows imaging different body sites at different angles very precisely.

After they managed to use this device in this intended application for the first time, they decided to see if they could use the same device for treatment. The only difference in settings between diagnostics and treatment is actually just the power of the laser.

Yimei Huang, co-lead author of the study, said: “Our technology allows us to scan tissue quickly, and when we see a suspicious or abnormal cell structure, we can perform ultra-precise surgery and selectively treat the unwanted or diseased structure within the tissue—without cutting into the skin”.

Probably the best thing about this device is its compact size. In the near future scientists will try to develop a miniature version of this equipment, which will be able to perform microscopic examinations and treatment during endoscopy. This could be useful in examining patient’s digestive tract. Again, this could be used both as a diagnostics and a treatment tool. For now its functionality is mostly limited to skin, but further development will expand it greatly. Scientists say that for the treatment of diseases like skin cancer this could be revolutionary.

Great inventions make a great impact. We’re just going to have to wait and see where this one will go. It will still be some years until it gets developed into a clinically used version.

Source: UBC

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