University of Texas at Austin

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Engineering professor gets Wired

Adela Ben-Yakar, an assistant professor in the Department of Mechanical Engineering, is featured in an article in the December 2008 edition of Wired magazine and on the magazine’s Web site.

She is developing laser microscalpels that would be able to excise a cancerous cell without damaging neighboring cells.

We wrote about her work for a Campus Cameo in the Playbook program distributed at Longhorn football games. It was in the Oct. 25 edition (the Oklahoma State game). For those of you who do not have the programs in a burnt orange binder at home, here it is:

Laser Surgery Probe Targets Individual Cancer Cells

After surgery to remove a brain tumor, the surgeon might tell the patient that some cancer cells remain because they were too close to healthy tissue to risk going after.

Those lurking cancer cells might be in reach of a laser microscalpel developed by Adela Ben-Yakar, an assistant professor in the Department of Mechanical Engineering at The University of Texas at Austin.

The microscalpel destroys a single cell while leaving nearby cells intact.

“You can remove a cell with high precision in 3-D without damaging the cells above and below it,” Ben-Yakar says. “And you can see, with the same precision, what you are doing to guide your microsurgery.”

The lasers produce extremely brief, high-energy light pulses that sear a targeted cell so quickly and accurately the lasers’ heat has no time to escape and damage nearby healthy cells.

The medical community envisions the lasers’ use for more accurate destruction of small tumors of the vocal cords, individual cancer cells scattered throughout brain tissue and plaque in arteries.

Along with the microscalpel, Ben-Yakar’s laboratory has overcome technological challenges to create a probe that can deliver the ultra-fast laser pulses to one-hundredth of an inch deep inside tissue.

Within a few years, Ben-Yakar expects to shrink the probe’s diameter to about one-third the size of a dime. It would be the same size as instruments used for today’s minimally invasive surgeries, in which small incisions are made instead of larger ones in conventional surgeries. Such techniques are used for a range of procedures from knee surgery to removal of gall bladders.

More on Ben-Yakar’s research:

Laser Surgery Probe Targets Individual Cancer Cells

Nanosurgery on a Specially Designed Microchip Reveals Anesthetics Interfere with Nerve Regeneration Process

‘Nano-scissors’ laser shows precise surgical capability; Study also offers nerve regeneration model

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