University of Tennessee researchers have developed a super fast laser procedure that could serve as a non-invasive treatment of cancer, particularly when the disease is located in the brain. The new technology was developed at the University’s Center for Laser Applications, and it works by seeking and destroying cancerous tumors.

The method uses a femtosecond laser, which is so fast that it pulses at speeds of one-quadrillionth of a second. Such high speed makes it possible to zoom in on a specific region to find and acutely map a tumor. Even difficult-to-access regions could be accessed by the ultra-short pulses, which also allow for the use of intense radiation. Once the cancerous area is precisely targeted, only the intensity of the laser radiation needs to be turned up in order to burn off the tumor. For this reason, it has the potential to be more precise than current methods and instead of making patients undergo intensive surgery, treatment could be administered as an outpatient procedure.

The technology was developed by associate professor of physics Christian Parigger along with Jacqueline Johnson, associate professor of mechanical, aerospace, and biomedical engineering, and Robert Splinter of Splinter Consultants.

“Because the femtosecond laser radiation can be precisely focused both spatially and temporally, one can avoid heating up too many other things that you do not want heated,” said Parigger. “Using longer laser-light pulses is similar to leaving a light bulb on, which gets warm and can damage healthy tissue.”

The new technology is especially suitable (though not only) to treat brain cancer patients because the imaging mechanism can permeate thin layers of bone, such as the skull, in a non-invasive way. Thanks to its precision, there is less chance of collateral damage of healthy brain tissue. On top of that, the technology overcomes limitations of photodynamic therapy (a type of treatment for malignant cancers that is limited in application and reach) and surgery, in cases when it is not possible to remove all carcinogenic tissue.

The researchers now are working to take their technology to market with help from the University of Tennessee Research Foundation, a non-profit corporation responsible for commercializing the university’s technologies and supporting UT research.

More information is available in the video below.