Researchers at a Scottish university are developing a new laser system that will help physicians distinguish between cancer tumor cells and healthy tissues, and allow them to remove the cancerous cells while leaving healthy surrounding tissue intact. To help further this research, the UK’s Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council has bestowed the project’s leader, Prof. Jonathan Shephard a 1.2 GBP grant and will further collaborate with the University of Leeds and Leeds Teaching Hospital NHS Trust to develop the new system for brain cancers.
As one consultant surgeon at the Leeds trust noted, “the precision of a laser combined with imaging to accurately discriminate cancer from normal tissue will greatly enhance the ability of surgeons to completely remove cancers with minimal side-effects for patients.”
According to Shephard, the “laser system can remove cancer cells in a way that restricts damage to the 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, as happens with current surgical tools.” Shepherd’s team is also working to develop a flexible, optical fibre system that can be used to target and remove cancer cells on an even smaller scale than the current technology allows.
Once the laser technology is applied more thoroughly to colon and brain cancers, the hope is that this system could be used to treat all sorts of cancers, potentially even mesothelioma where the disease affects linings of tissue surrounding the lungs and abdominal cavity. As with most forms of cancer, the key to treating mesothelioma is to detect it as early as possible, when tumors are relatively small and have not spread throughout the rest of the body, so they can be treated surgically.
“The most important principle of any cancer surgery is to ensure all cancer cells are removed; failure to do so will result in the cancer coming back,” Shephard went on to explain. “This is an ultimate test of precision, even microscopic loss of healthy tissue and damage to nearby vital structures can have severe functional consequences and a huge impact on quality of life.”
Mesothelioma is a rare and deadly form of lung cancer that is caused by exposure to asbestos, which was once used for decades in a variety of commercial, military, and industrial applications as an insulation construction material. Even though asbestos was effectively banned by federal legislation in the mid 1970s, thousands of innocent people continue to receive a mesothelioma cancer diagnosis today due to their exposure to the mineral in decades past.
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