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Ultra powerful mini Star Wars-esque "lightsaber" a natural fit to fight evil -- evil cancer cells

You could say the force is strong in physics professor Kishan Dholakia and Dr Frank Gunn-Moore of the University of St Andrews in Scotland.  With a deluge of nanotech cancer treatments being developed, the pair have developed a superior way perhaps to fight cancer -- with "lightsabers".

The miniature device, just a few millimeters long extends a "lightsaber" laser beam.  The beam is so accurate it can target a single cell.  The device would be perfect for hard to reach cancers that typically have high fatality rates, such as cancer of the pancreas.  The little lightsaber can punch holes in cells surrounding the spot of a remove tumor, allowing chemo drugs to be selectively delivered to only the cells at risk. 

The team currently has the light saber mounted on an optical fiber.  The team is now working on adapting it to endoscopes, tiny cameras used by doctors during routine medical procedures.  Putting the saber on the end of the camera, researchers could sneak a peak of the region and then go to work punching holes in cells as needed.

Dr. Gun-Moore, obviously a fan of the science-fiction movie franchise Star Wars, enthused about the new real-life research breakthrough, "You could think of these as tiny light sabers like they had in Star Wars inside your body.  We can use lasers to punch tiny holes exactly where we want them. We can produce a rod of light - sometimes described as a sword - that can even go around objects. It really does sound like science fiction."

The device could solve a persistent problem in the field of medicine.  The most desirable drug would seem to be the one that is most effective at killing cancer cells.  However, many of the best drugs have poor solubility, making their delivery difficult to near impossible.

The new device creates an alternative -- low solubility drugs can be optimally delivered through a process called "photoporation".  By using the new "lightsaber" to punch multiple pores in a cell membrane, large insoluble drug molecules can pass through the membrane.  Further, the method could also be used to deliver genes to cells and extend the applications of gene therapy, useful in treating diseases such as cystic fibrosis.

The device could also be used in the lab to make drug testing easier.  By punching holes in cells, drugs could be delivered to them and evaluated solely on their effectiveness, removing solubility from the mix.  The process could also help to speed up the testing.

The pair looks to bring their device to hospitals across the country in as little as five years.  Dr Gunn-Moore says one of the first potential applications is in treatment of Alzheimer's disease.   



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Its called a laser.
By spread on 11/24/2008 12:14:57 PM , Rating: 2
Laser =/= Light Saber

But still an awesome breakthrough.




RE: Its called a laser.
By ecbsykes on 11/24/2008 12:18:16 PM , Rating: 2
I think the difference is that lasers normally keep going on forever. If this is what i think it is, the length of the beam is adjustable, or at least just stops.


RE: Its called a laser.
By whiskerwill on 11/24/2008 1:09:52 PM , Rating: 2
Nope. It's an ordinary laser that keeps on going forever. The "lightsaber" part is just journalist license.


RE: Its called a laser.
By JasonMick (blog) on 11/24/2008 1:32:11 PM , Rating: 5
quote:
Nope. It's an ordinary laser that keeps on going forever. The "lightsaber" part is just journalist license.


Nope.

Actually thats what its inventors likened it to, if you read the piece more carefully.

quote:
Dr. Gun-Moore, obviously a fan of the science-fiction movie franchise Star Wars, enthused about the new real-life research breakthrough, "You could think of these as tiny light sabers like they had in Star Wars inside your body


No journalistic license at all (though lightsabers are pretty awesome).


RE: Its called a laser.
By niva on 11/24/2008 2:27:20 PM , Rating: 2
Lasers only go forever (like light) in space until they hit something. All a laser is is focused light. All lasers start in a tube and a very controlled environment where light reflects around with a path length such that as the light reflects it goes over itself and amplifies itself. What they have done with this technology is exposed it to the outside environment. Lasers which are used for pointing devices only allow very little of the total light to escape the tube. Here the tube is open and no light is escaping from outside the two mirrors on the ends.

Light sabers as seen in star wars are fiction. We don't have a means to make light bend in the way portrayed in the movies. It's better to call them special force energy sabers which can reflect light (remember how they can deflect fired lasers at them?) That's purely sci fi for us right now.

A laser saber for us would look like a regular sword with light/laser on the edge similar to this technology.

One of the big problems with this technology is plasma bleeding. Here the laser is so small it doesn't create a big problem but if you make this big enough to be used by a human the actual laser will bleed plasma all over and most likely kill the person trying to swing it around.

I think they're going to try to use this technology to drill through the body and deliver the chemo on the spot, not to destroy cells one by one and kill all the cancer that way.

Anyways, my 2 cents!


RE: Its called a laser.
By MrPoletski on 11/24/2008 3:31:38 PM , Rating: 3
quote:
Lasers only go forever (like light) in space until they hit something. All a laser is is focused light. All lasers start in a tube and a very controlled environment where light reflects around with a path length such that as the light reflects it goes over itself and amplifies itself. What they have done with this technology is exposed it to the outside environment. Lasers which are used for pointing devices only allow very little of the total light to escape the tube. Here the tube is open and no light is escaping from outside the two mirrors on the ends.


Lasers have an ignition source, such as a xenon flash bulb which starts up light in a standing wave inside the laser cavity, passing back and forth through the lasing medium. As the photons travel through the medium (such as helium-neon gas) one of the interactions that possible is that the photon will cause an excited electron in a higher energy level to decay down to a lower level, releasing a photon. This photon will be of the exact same frequency direction and phase of the original one. The lasing medium will then soon electrically energise that electron back into the higher state again. (i.e. draw power). So the lasing medium has an associated 'gain'.

A perfect laser outputs monochromatic (one frequency) light with infinite coherence length, but in practice you get frequency harmonics appear and a coherence length (distance along beam before a random change of phase) of a few centimeters to a meter.

It is likely that they are using a microscopic focusing technique to bring the laser down to the tiniest spot - and decide at what distance from the end of the fibre that spot is at. This would mean that not everything in the path of that laser will be burned, just at the focal point of the lens.
quote:
Light sabers as seen in star wars are fiction. We don't have a means to make light bend in the way portrayed in the movies.


we gotta figure out how to make light solid first!


RE: Its called a laser.
By General Disturbance on 11/25/2008 10:06:04 AM , Rating: 2
I believe the scientist is using what is called a Bessel Beam. You take any type of laser, expand the beam, and then reflect it off of a CONICAL mirror, as opposed to a parabolic or spherical mirror. The intensity pattern produced by this is Bessellian across the reflected beams' axis, and is much much more narrow than the original beam, something like 100x more narrow (therefore small enough to target individual cells). The other neat thing about the reflected beam is that, depending on the angle of the vertex of the conical reflector, the Bessel laser beam will simply stop at a certain distance. I saw such a system in our optics lab in the basement of my university (University of Calgary), and indeed the beam stopped ~60cm from the source - I just checked with a piece of paper. The intensity isn't constant though. This was done on a big optical bench, but I kept thinking, there is no reason this can't be miniaturized into something hand held and then add a 9 Watt laser to it or something!

Anyway, it's like a lightsaber because the beam stops at a distance from the mirror. It is NOT like a lightsaber in that if you intersected two of these beams, they would not make a cool electrical arcing sound and bounce off each other.


RE: Its called a laser.
By kayronjm on 11/25/2008 8:23:18 PM , Rating: 2
For that you'd have to have something that will physically stop or deviate the photons at a certain length-scale. That's the major problem in the laser physics of developing a real lightsabre as in Star Wars.


RE: Its called a laser.
By amanojaku on 11/24/2008 12:21:11 PM , Rating: 3
That's why they called it a laser here:
quote:
The miniature device, just a few millimeters long extends a "lightsaber" laser beam. The beam is so accurate it can target a single cell.

And here:
quote:
We can use lasers to punch tiny holes exactly where we want them.

And put lightsaber in quotes throughout the article. A lightsaber is nothing more than an application of the laser, so this technology fits the bill, even if you can't use it to cut people's hands off.


RE: Its called a laser.
By monitorjbl on 11/24/2008 12:26:26 PM , Rating: 6
You could remove appendages, but you'd have to go cell by cell. At that speed, it would only work in Dragonball Z episodes.


RE: Its called a laser.
By Spivonious on 11/24/2008 12:37:16 PM , Rating: 2
ROFLMAO!!!!


RE: Its called a laser.
By therealnickdanger on 11/24/2008 1:33:19 PM , Rating: 2
Bravo, sir. Bravo.


RE: Its called a laser.
By kkwst2 on 11/24/2008 2:10:58 PM , Rating: 5
Your comment actually sort of demonstrates why the author of the linked article, and perhaps the inventor himself, just don't have a full understanding of the problem with cancer therapies. We have plenty of things that can kill cells, it's delivering it that is the issue. This invention, while certainly an impressive feat in miniaturization, does nothing to that end and is thus not a medical breakthrough in my opinion.

If you've got a laser that can punch holes in cells, why do you need the chemo drug? Just punch the cell full of holes until it dies. The issue is figuring out how to target the cancer cells specifically.

Chemo drugs work by trying to target some unique property of the cancer cells. Unfortunately, usually this ends up being that they divide more rapidly than regular cells. This is quite dirty because there is overlap between cancer cells and normal cells and you end up killing a lot of normal rapidly dividing cells which is one of the causes of side effects.

So unfortunately, the holy grail of cancer treatments will come from molecular and biochemical research looking at unique protein expressions/etc. that will allow for novel agents that target only the abnormal cells, not from endoscope-mounted lasers.

Maybe if you could mount the super-tiny lasers on super-tiny sharks trained to sniff out cancer cells that would swim through your bloodstream and zap the cancer cells...


RE: Its called a laser.
By feraltoad on 11/25/2008 4:11:22 AM , Rating: 2
Super-tiny sharks? Would they be...evil?


RE: Its called a laser.
By kontorotsui on 11/25/2008 3:55:54 AM , Rating: 2
quote:
You could remove appendages, but you'd have to go cell by cell. At that speed, it would only work in Dragonball Z episodes.


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