Laser-sharp operator

A surgical laser that uses a novel type of glass optical fibre has been used to destroy stones in the salivary ducts of patients, potentially opening the way for a range of new medical applications.


A surgical laser that uses a novel type of glass optical fibre has been used to destroy stones in the salivary ducts of patients, potentially opening the way for a range of new medical applications.


The device, which has been developed by University of Southampton spin-off company ChG, will enable surgeons to remove the stones by laser for the first time without also damaging the tissue in salivary ducts.


ChG uses a type of glass optical fibre called GLS, which can safely transmit the laser beam used to destroy the stone. An erbium doped Yttrium Aluminum Garnet crystal laser is used to create the light because its energy is completely absorbed by water in the salivary duct.


Dan Hewak, a research fellow at the university’s Optoelectronics Research Centre, said: ‘The key to this is that the laser’s light is very strongly absorbed by water.’


ChG is using the device to destroy duct stones to prove that its glass optical fibres can be used for other applications. If the device can safely destroy stones as long as 1cm from within salivary ducts, it could be used to destroy kidney stones and for cosmetic medicine, such as hair removal and other types of dental work.


Dentists currently have to cut through a patient’s jaw to remove salivary duct stones, which cause agonising pain. The procedure is so invasive that the shape of patient’s face is changed for a year afterwards.