St Andrews university develops fibre-optic '˜healing light'

A new technique which carries light further into human tissue than was previously possible has been developed by Scots researchers and the Harvard Medical School.

Bioabsorbable optical waveguides can be implanted into tissue to deliver light deeper and more effectively. Image: University of St Andrews

The new ‘healing light’ could help to heal wounds faster as well as treat tumours more efficiently.

Through a process known as photochemical tissue bonding, light is applied to a wound to encourage it to heal quicker.

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Until now, this technique has been limited to treating only superficial wounds, but researchers from both Scottish and American universities attempted to develop a technology for tissue repair that could be used within the human body.

Staff at the University of St Andrews have made a major breakthrough in patient treatment. Image: TSPL

The international team found a way to make biodegradable optical fibres which can be inserted into the body to deliver light to heal internal wounds locally after major surgical operations. As a result of their work, the St Andrews-Harvard research team have found a way for doctors to heal patients from within, without leaving internal scars.

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Professor Malte Gather of the School of Physics and Astronomy at the University of St Andrews, said: “A variety of optical techniques, such as photochemical tissue bonding and photodynamic therapy, require efficient delivery of light deep into tissues, but the current limited penetration of light in tissue constitutes a serious constraint in clinical use.

“Having biocompatible and bioabsorbable optical components may transform photomedicine from a discipline where light is predominantly applied externally, to a new paradigm based on tissue-integrated and precisely controlled delivery and collection of light.”

Staff at the University of St Andrews have made a major breakthrough in patient treatment. Image: TSPL

Existing fibre-optic devices or catheters have been made of glass or plastic, which remains in the body permanently or until they are removed via surgical procedure.

Details of the team’s new method are published in the Nature Communications journal, with the St Andrews team involved in the breakthrough believing it will have dramatic implications for medicine in future.

The research could also find application in a variety of other areas, such as long-term photodynamic therapy (PDT) for cancer treatment, as well as implanted endoscopy after surgery for repeated imaging and monitoring of the healing process.