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Medicineworld.org: Targeting Fat With Laser

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Targeting Fat With Laser

Targeting Fat With Laser Rox Anderson, right, and Free-Electron Laser Scientist Steve Benson, left, discuss laser beam parameters while conducting the experiment on pig fat. Image courtesy: Greg Adams, Jefferson Lab
Fat may have finally met its match: laser light. Scientists at the Wellman Center for Photomedicine at Massachusetts General Hospital, Harvard Medical School and the Department of Energy's Thomas Jefferson National Accelerator Facility (Jefferson Lab) have shown, for the first time, that a laser can preferentially heat lipid-rich tissues, or fat, in the body without harming the overlying skin. Laser therapies based on the new research could treat a variety of health conditions, including severe acne, atherosclerotic plaque, and unwanted cellulite. The result will be presented at the American Society for Laser Medicine and Surgery (ASLMS) 26th Annual Meeting in Boston, Mass.

In the first part of the study, the scientists used human fat obtained from surgically discarded normal tissue. Based on a fat absorption spectrum, tissue was exposed to a range of wavelengths of infrared laser light (800-2600 nanometers) using the Free-Electron Laser facility at Jefferson Lab. The scientists measured how selected wavelengths heated the fat and compared the result to a similar experiment conducted with pure water. At most infrared wavelengths, water is more efficiently heated by infrared light; however, the scientists found three wavelengths â€" 915, 1210 and 1720 nm â€" where fat was more efficiently heated than water.

The scientists then exposed fresh, intact pig skin-and-fat tissue samples, about two inches thick, to free-electron laser infrared light centered around the two most promising wavelengths, 1210 and 1720 nm. To imitate potential surgical conditions, the pig skin was placed next to a cold window, which mimicked the application of a cold compress to the skin previous to laser exposure. The scientists zapped samples with beams of infrared laser light ranging from eight to 17 mm wide for about 16 seconds. They found that the 1210 nm wavelength preferentially heated pig fat up to 1 cm deep, without damaging the overlying skin. At 1210 nm, laser-induced heating of fat was more than twice that of the overlying skin; at 1720 nm, it was about 1.7 times that of skin.

Rox Anderson, lead author on the study and a practicing dermatologist at Harvard, says the results provide a proof of principle for the use of selective photothermolysis, selectively heating tissues with light, for several potential medical applications. Dr. Anderson is most excited about the potential for using lasers to target sebaceous glands. “The root cause of acne is a lipid-rich gland, the sebaceous gland, which sits a few millimeters below the surface of the skin,” Anderson says, “We want to be able to selectively target the sebaceous gland, and this research shows that if we can build lasers at this region of the spectrum, we may be able to do that.”.

He says a selective laser therapy for acne could potentially replace the best acne drug, which is isotretinoin (usually known as Accutane®). The drug has major side effects and has been linked to severe birth defects in children whose mothers have used it while pregnant. Just last month, the FDA initiated the iPledge program in an attempt to reduce the number of pregnancies in female patients on the drug. These patients cannot obtain or fill their prescription unless they pass an initial screening and two negative pregnancy tests. The program also requires patients to promise to use two forms of contraception and submit a negative pregnancy test result each month while on the drug.

Dr. Anderson also envisions that laser therapys could emerge for other medical conditions involving lipid-rich tissues, such as atherosclerosis, which causes heart disease and stroke. Fatty plaques form in arteries, rupture, and kill millions of people each year. A selective therapy that stabilizes lipid plaques could be much better than prior attempts at laser therapy for heart disease.

“We can envision a fat-seeking laser, and we're heading down that path now,” Anderson says. The next step is to specifically develop these potential applications. If successful, new lasers capable of producing the appropriate wavelengths can be commissioned to target fat, sebaceous glands or plaques in patients. Dr. Anderson and the Wellman Center in Boston have already contributed a number of laser therapies, including non-scarring skin therapys for birthmarks.

Anderson says this study was made possible by the physics knowledge that built the Free-Electron Laser (FEL) at Jefferson Lab and a grant from the Department of Defense for the exploration of medical uses for FELs. "The Jefferson Lab FEL is an energy-recovering machine that produces laser light at the right wavelengths and right power that we need to do this research. This is a bit of a plug for the value of these very high-energy, accelerator-based lasers for physics. Because, in fact, they allow us to do experiments we couldn't do otherwise," he explains.



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Did you know?
Fat may have finally met its match: laser light. Scientists at the Wellman Center for Photomedicine at Massachusetts General Hospital, Harvard Medical School and the Department of Energy's Thomas Jefferson National Accelerator Facility (Jefferson Lab) have shown, for the first time, that a laser can preferentially heat lipid-rich tissues, or fat, in the body without harming the overlying skin. Laser therapies based on the new research could treat a variety of health conditions, including severe acne, atherosclerotic plaque, and unwanted cellulite. The result will be presented at the American Society for Laser Medicine and Surgery (ASLMS) 26th Annual Meeting in Boston, Mass.

Medicineworld.org: Targeting Fat With Laser

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