Monday, November 4, 2013

We're Not in Medieval Times Anymore!

Lasers that heal?  Sounds like sci-fi right?  Well it is, or at least it started that way in the minds of the creators of Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home.

The film sees a team of time travelers going back to the past -- that's our time -- to bring back a pair of humpback whales in their effort to communicate with an alien people that are threatening to destroy Earth. At one point Dr. McCoy -- who is only familiar with twenty-third century technology -- is shocked to find out a twentieth century physician about to drill into Chekof's head, and he says "[We're] dealing with Medievalism here."

I remember thinking that that kind of technology wouldn't be invented until long after I'm dead, but I was wrong. Though I did predict better than most people who think that "crazy" sci-fi ideas like that will never become reality.

So what is this new technology? It's a laser that would cure certain brain diseases by selectively destroying certain proteins that are causing disease. And lasers can do their work without drilling into someone's head!

Researchers at Chalmers University of Technology in Sweden, together with researchers at the Polish Wroclaw University of Technology, have made a discovery that may lead to the curing of many brain diseases through phototherapy.

The researchers discovered that it is possible to distinguish between aggregations of the proteins -- believed to cause the diseases -- from the the well-functioning proteins in the body. And they did it using a multi-photon laser technique.

These diseases arise when amyloid beta protein are aggregated in large doses so they start to inhibit proper cellular processes. Different proteins create different kinds of amyloids, but they generally have the same structure. This makes them different from the well-functioning proteins in the body, which can now be distinguished by this multi photon laser technique.

"Nobody has talked about using only light to treat these diseases until now. This is a totally new approach and we believe that this might become a breakthrough in the research of diseases such as Alzheimer's, Parkinson's and Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease [the so-called 'mad cow' disease disease]. We have found a totally new way of discovering these structures using just laser light", says Piotr Hanczyc at Chalmers University of Technology.

The theory is that if the protein aggregates are removed, then the disease is cured. The problem until now has been to detect and remove the harmful proteins.

The researchers hope that photoacoustic therapy, which is already used for tomography -- and which takes advantage of the photoacoustic effect discovered in 1880 by Alexander Graham Bell -- may be used to remove the malfunctioning proteins. Today amyloid protein aggregates are treated with chemicals, both for detection as well as removal. These chemicals are highly toxic and so they are harmful for those treated.

But with this new laser technology, the chemical treatment would be unnecessary. Nor would drilling in heads be necessary for removing the harmful proteins. Due to this discovery it might be possible to remove the harmful protein without even touching the surrounding tissue.

No surgery means far less cost and higher success rates.

Reducing cost and saving lives! Thanks to technology! Thanks to human innovation!

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