‘Sonoillumination’ transmits laser directly into skin to remove blemishes

Researchers based at the University of Missouri have developed a new approach to laser-based skin treatment. By applying surgical lasers directly to the skin, dermatologists could improve the precision of their procedures while reducing safety concerns about eye damage

Since laser treatments for port-wine stains and other birthmarks first became available more than 40 years ago, there has been a growing demand for safe and efficient laser-based removal techniques.

Laser-based treatments are minimally invasive and a popular choice for minor cosmetic surgeries, as the skin does not have to be cut. In particular, laser tattoo removal – which painlessly directs laser light onto the skin to break down tattoo ink – is a common procedure.

Despite their popularity, conventional ‘open air’ laser techniques, which involve aiming laser light towards the skin, are far from perfect. As the laser is held a distance from the skin, it is difficult for the light to be aimed such that it is only absorbed by the target area. Open-air laser techniques also pose a risk of eye damage to both patients and clinicians.

Researchers based at the University of Missouri’s division of food systems and bioengineering and led by Paul Whiteside have devised a system that they hope could make laser dermatology more precise, while also reducing risk.

The researchers developed new instruments that produce an ultrasonic pulse while transmitting light directly into the tissue, through contact with the skin. By improving transmission of the laser through the surface layers of skin, the researchers hope the technique could reduce safety concerns associated with open-air laser skin treatments.

"The system we developed uses ultrasonic pulsation in conjunction with a clinical laser to alter the properties of skin tissues during the procedure," Whiteside said. "We've named the technique 'sonoillumination,' and we're hopeful that the procedure will be available widely in the near future."

Whiteside’s team tested the sonoillumination system on samples of pig skin, using a range of amplitudes and pulses. At the annual conference of the American Society for Laser Medicine and Surgery (ASLMS), they reported that their results showed great promise for clinical applications.

Their results have been accepted for publication in Lasers in Surgery and Medicine.

"Pork skin samples are very close to human skin samples, so the initial results we saw are promising for human applications," said Dr Heather Hunt, assistant professor of bioengineering.

"Sonoillumination will be extremely beneficial for clinicians and the ASLMS presentation allowed us to demonstrate the system to the people who actually will be using the technology once it's commercialised.”

Professor Nicholas Golda, from Missouri University’s school of medicine praised the sonoillumination system for the positive impact it could have on clinical dermatology.

“Our goal is to provide patients with safer, more effective treatment options that potentially lower the number of treatments needed,” said Professor Golda. “This new technology may also provide physicians with a safer, more controllable option for treating patients.”

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