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Medical lasers are like science fiction heat rays that can vaporize tumors. The problem has been getting the lasers to where they are needed inside the body while protecting healthy tissue.
Now "perfect mirror" technology, developed by MIT researchers, is being used to shoot a laser through a spaghetti-thin, flexible fiber to attack tumors and other diseased tissue in highly targeted, minimally invasive surgery.
OmniGuide fiber, licensed through MIT's Technology Licensing Office, scored a world first at Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston last October when thoracic surgeon Dr. Raphael Bueno used it to shrink a patient's cancerous lung tumor by 90 percent. Although carbon dioxide lasers have been used for more than 30 years to surgically remove diseased tissue in the throat, larynx, intestines and elsewhere, there was no easy way to get the lasers inside the body. Extensive surgery was required.
"The OmniGuide fiber gives us a tremendous advantage in treating lung cancer patients, many of whom have limited options because of the sensitive locations of their tumors," Bueno said. Existing laser technologies are considered too risky for some patients because they can penetrate up to a centimeter beyond their placement, jeopardizing organs close to the tumor, including the heart, Bueno said.
The connection with Bueno was facilitated through the Center for the Integration of Medicine and Innovative Technology (CIMIT), a consortium involving MIT, Harvard Medical School and the leading teaching hospitals affiliated with HMS. Bueno first heard about the technology at CIMIT's 2003 annual conference in a lecture series focused on new technologies for surgical applications.
The fiber originated with the "perfect mirror" created in 1998 by Yoel Fink, associate professor of materials science and engineering; John D. Joannopoulos, the Francis Wright Davis Professor of Physics; and Edwin L. Thomas, the Morris Cohen Professor of Materials Science and Engineering.