Lasers and health

Lasers are commonly employed in many medical disciplines; dermatology, dentistry, cardiology, neurosurgery and eye surgery, because of their ability to deliver high precision treatments whilst remaining minimally invasive. Laser based therapies and diagnostic methods represent an area of huge future potential.

Lasers are commonly employed in many medical disciplines; dermatology, dentistry, cardiology, neurosurgery and eye surgery, because of their ability to deliver high precision treatments whilst remaining minimally invasive. Laser based therapies and diagnostic methods represent an area of huge future potential.

Key facts

How laser imaging can help diagnose cancer

Imagine a world in which doctors can prescribe medication that is specifically tailored to a person’s DNA fingerprint. It is guaranteed to be effective against an individual’s cancer, with minimal side-effects.

Scientists working at STFC’s Central Laser Facility are at the forefront of research aimed at tackling diseases such as lung and breast cancer. A technique that colour-codes ‘misbehaving’ protein molecules with a fluorescent dye and then uses lasers to illuminate these molecules, causing them to glow, provides an insight into their behaviour during the onset of disease. Researchers can then use sophisticated computer methods to build up a detailed 3-D picture that reveals the underlying bio-molecular interactions leading to disease.

The information obtained from this novel use of lasers will be a crucial step towards a future of personalised medicine.

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Shrinking accelerators

By smashing together beams of high-energy elementary particles in accelerators and observing the debris, researchers can better understand the structure of matter and the forces of nature at a fundamental level.

In addition, beams of energetic particles are useful tools for biological, nanotechnology and chemistry research.

STFC scientists are involved in investigating and developing a new generation of radiation sources that aim to accelerate particles using lasers. This technology has the potential to reduce the size of conventional accelerators to fit on a laboratory bench-top, resulting in significantly reduced costs. These potentially portable machines would also offer a host of medical, industrial and security applications, including cancer therapy, the rapid detection of hidden explosives and improved quality control in the fabrication of semiconductors.

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Detecting eye disease

By scanning laser light back and forth across the retina, high-resolution, cross-sectional images can be taken, which can be combined into a 3-D picture of the retina.

This novel technique – optical coherence tomography (OCT) – can help ophthalmologists to detect the subtle changes that occur in retinal disease

Cholesterol testing

Using technology developed at STFC’s Daresbury Laboratory in Cheshire, the company L3 Technology has used lasers to develop and patent a highly accurate cholesterol test that is more precise and cost-effective than other similar testing kits currently available.

Current ‘over-the-counter’ cholesterol test-kits do not distinguish between the different types of cholesterol considered ‘good’ or ‘bad’ from a health point of view. Existing laboratory tests take a minimum of three days to generate adequate results.

The L3 Technology test works by tagging compounds with a fluorescent marker that is subsequently illuminated with an intense light source. The intensity of fluorescence quantifies the type and amount of cholesterol that is present in the sample.

The company’s ultimate goal is to produce a range of tests that will be conveniently available at your GP’s surgery, saving both time and money.

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Tattoo Removal

Tattoos consist of large clumps of pigment scattered through the lower layer of skin. Because of their size the body is unable to remove these clumps, so instead, seals them off with a protective fibrous barrier.

Laser therapy works by breaking down this fibrous barrier, allowing the pigment to disperse into smaller pieces, which the body’s natural defences can slowly remove.

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Science and Technology Facilities Council Switchboard: 01793 442000