Laser detects cancer tissue
Researchers in Kassel have developed a method that uses ultrashort flashes of light to make cancer surgery faster and gentler.
To decide whether the malignant tissue has been completely removed, a so-called frozen section examination is often performed. In this procedure, a laboratory physician examines the removed tissue while surgery is still in progress by flash freezing, sectioning, and staining it outside the operating room. In doing so, he can determine whether the correct safety distance was maintained during removal. The outcome of this time-consuming process determines how the surgery proceeds.
It would be preferable to have an alternative or complementary technique that can quickly and precisely determine the type of tissue being operated on, in order to reduce the time required for the operation and reduce the stress on the patient.
This is where the work of the Kassel researchers comes in. Using liver cancer and breast cancer samples from the archives of the Institute of Pathology North Hesse, they achieved an accuracy in distinguishing healthy from diseased tissue of 95 to nearly 100 percent using a laser method. This involves sending ultrashort laser flashes lasting a few quadrillionths of a second at the tissue, causing a small amount of ablation of the tissue. This produces light that indicates the chemical composition of the tissue.
The researchers anticipate that this method for rapid tissue identification will find its way into the operating room after further research and development. If ultrashort pulse lasers were to be used as cutting tools during surgery, this method could even distinguish healthy from diseased tissue directly during the incision.
While this method cannot cure cancer, it can make treatment faster, safer, and gentler, says Thomas Baumert. He is one of the experimental physicists in Kassel.