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Experimental laser microscope may treat skin conditions, cancer

Photo by: The University of British Columbia

Researchers have developed a variant of a multiphoton excitation microscope that could allow identification and treatment of some skin lesions with a single device.

The technology, described in Science Advances (May 15, 2019; 5(5):eaan9388), utilizes an infrared laser to image tissue in situ to a depth of approximately one millimeter, while also being able to use the same laser at different settings to cause selective thermolysis in blood vessels.

“Our technology allows us to scan tissue quickly, and when we see a suspicious or abnormal cell structure, we can perform ultra-precise surgery and selectively treat the unwanted or diseased structure within the tissue—without cutting into the skin,” said Yimei Huang, co-lead author of the study, in a press release. Huang is a former postdoctoral fellow at the Department of Dermatology and Skin Science at the University of British Columbia (UBC) and BC Cancer.

In the release, the authors suggest that the technology has the potential to treat any structure of the body that is reached by light and that requires extremely precise treatment, such as nerves or blood vessels in the skin, eye, or brain. Potential conditions involving excessive angiogenesis that could be treated with this technology include cancers, capillary malformations such as port wine stains, macular degeneration, and diabetic retinopathy.

“We can alter the pathway of blood vessels without impacting any of the surrounding vessels or tissues,” said study co-author Dr. Harvey Lui, professor at the Department of Dermatology and Skin Science at UBC and the Vancouver Coastal Health Research Institute, and a dermatologist at BC Cancer. “For diagnosing and scanning diseases like skin cancer, this could be revolutionary.”

The researchers have partnered with several UBC departments, including mechanical engineering, electrical engineering and ophthalmology, to develop different versions of the technology. Potential applications being explored include the development of a miniature version that could be used to perform microscopic examinations and treatment during endoscopy.

This work was supported by the Canadian Institutes of Health Research, the National Key Basic Research Program of China, the National Natural Science Foundation of China, the Canadian Dermatology Foundation, the VGH & UBC Hospital Foundation and the BC Hydro Employees Community Services Fund.

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