Tag Archives: laser

Brain surgery, media, and serendipity

brainA North Carolina neurosurgeon had just about given up on the case of Brandon, a 19-year-old tumor patient, till a story on CNN.com led him to a new surgical tool that let him operate successfully.

Dr. Thomas Ellis, a senior neurosurgeon at Wake Forest University School of Medicine, had given the mother the bad news. But:

“As I do every night, I read CNN online and immediately saw on the front page that there was an article in the health section entitled, From military device to life-saving surgical tool. …”

Ellis got in touch with the manufacturer in Massachusetts, and 72 hours later the device was in his hands.

It was originally devised for the U.S. military, and rolled out for surgeries three months before Ellis read about it.

The tool allows surgeons to easily manipulate a CO2 laser and bend it to reach almost any tissue in the body, particularly in cases where scalpels may pose a danger.

Next day (Christmas Eve, no less):

“After only 30 minutes, it was clear this laser device, as simple to use as a scalpel, was successfully debulking the tumor.”

Ellis operated on Brandon for four hours and managed to remove the remaining 80 percent of the tumor by vaporizing it from the inside with the laser and then excising it.

“The boy was then extubated [removing the tube to his airway] after about 30 minutes and that same evening he was eating normally,” Wolf said.

Brandon has recovered his basic functions and is behaving normally.

Ellis says:

“I think it’s an amazing story because it’s yet another demonstration of how interconnected we’ve become in this world.

“You have a CNN reporter in London, who writes a story about a neurosurgeon in Chicago, who’s using a device that was invented in Massachusetts. That story is read by a different neurosurgeon in North Carolina, and all within 72 hours, we have the device in North Carolina.”

[PET scan image from Wikimedia Commons]

New lasers show cells in real time

danger99.gifTraditional microscope technology has been limited in resolution by a physical property of light called the diffraction limit. The diffraction limit states that light can only be focused into a beam as wide as half its wavelength. Researchers at Harvard University have overcome this limit by using nanoscale antennae to focus light down to beam as little as 100 nanometers in size.

The technique shows the most promise for biological imaging at the cellular level. Microscopes using the new lasers should be able to detect, for example, changes in individual proteins on the surfaces of cells.