Generally, when you think of a hot laser being pointed at your body, you'd expect it to create a hole rather than seal one up. And most of the time, you'd be right. But Abraham Katzir, a physicist at Tel Aviv University, has just begun human trials of healing lasers that promise less scarring, faster healing and less risk of infection when compared to traditional stiches.
As you can see from the photos to the left, the laser-healed cut on the bottom healed much better than the suture-sewn cut on top. So how do they keep the laser safe and prevent it from doing more damage than good?
To overcome this problem, Katzir and his colleagues developed a laser-based system with a feedback loop that prevents overheating. First, they had to determine the optimal temperature at which flesh melts but can still heal (about 65 degrees Celsius). Then the group created a pen-sized tool that incorporates optic fibres: one that channels a carbon dioxide-powered infrared laser to the wound with pinpoint precision, and another that leads from the pen to an infrared sensor, which measures the temperature and ensures that the heat remains within the ideal range, between 60 and 70 degrees. All a surgeon has to do is move the pen's tip along the cut, strengthening and sealing the weld with a solder of water-soluble protein.
Sounds awesome and scary. Bring on the laser sutures! [Technology Review]