The Future is Now: Surgery Without Incision
Surgery has become less invasive over time – think of the transition from saw to scalpel, and scalpel to endoscope – but now some scientists believe we may be on the verge of a long-elusive goal: the ability to perform surgery without any incisions at all. A recent study in Nature has presaged a future of procedures that use nothing but sound and light – ultrasound and deep light, to be specific. Here’s one account:
Piggybacking off the work of Lihong Wang’s group at Washington University in St. Louis (WUSTL), Yang’s team utilized a technique where light could be focused, using the high-frequency vibrations of ultrasound which doesn’t scatter in tissue, and which interacts with light such that it shifts the light’s frequency only slightly. The end result of this “acousto-optic” effect was that light which interacted with ultrasound changed into a slightly different color.
When the acousto-optic effect was applied to tissue, it allowed the researchers to pick up on the color variations and record them — thus creating an image of what lies beneath. The device is also highly versatile; researchers can control where they want to focus the light by moving the ultrasound focus.
And because the method allows the researchers to apply as much power as they want, it opens the door to other possibilities, namely subcutaneous treatments. In addition to being able to “tag” cells or molecules with fluorescent dyes, doctors will very likely use the process to treat conditions like cancer.
Some people believe this technology could eventually help doctors image the body to a few inches in depth, which is more than enough to see practically every structure from the front and back. Such applications are undoubtedly several years off, but it remains a promising technology.
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