Scientists at Heriot-Watt University to Develop a Laser System to Eliminate Cancer Cells

By - World Healthcare Journal

Professor Jonathan Shepard of Heriot-Watt University, a Scottish public research institution, has been given a grant of £1.2m to develop a laser that will make the elimination of cancer cells more accurate.

The grant was given to Shepard by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC), a British funding group that provides funding for research related to engineering and physical studies. EPSRC is part of UK Research and Innovation, an executive non-departmental public body that provides funding to scientific research organizations in the UK.

The push to develop a new laser system is all about increased precision. Accuracy in removing cancer cells is critical, since it can be difficult sometimes to distinguish between normal, healthy tissue and a cancerous growth.

The aim of the laser is to be able to remove cancer cells at a finer and more exact rate, while still protecting healthy tissue. The new system will be constructed around ultrafast picosecond lasers, that emit energy in a series of pulses that are one trillionth of a second long.

The current focus for the development team is designing a system for brain cancers, having already proved the concept works for colorectal cancers (cancer of the colon or rectum). The team is working with clinicians at the University of Leeds and Leeds Teaching Hospital NHS Trust to develop this new concept. Furthermore, Shephard and his team will also work on developing an optical fibre-based laser system that can identify and eliminate cancer cells two orders of magnitude smaller than current technology.

“Previously we focused on colorectal cancers. We proved in the lab that our laser system can remove cancer cells in a way that restricts damage to the surrounding, healthy cells - within the width of a human hair,” says Professor Shephard.

There is no exact date yet as to when the new laser system will be ready, however the development team will be working on the system over the next three years.

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