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U.S. Air Force investigates using laser light to heal war injuries

U.S. Air Force investigates using laser light to heal war injuries

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The U.S. Air Force may soon use laser light to instantly treat battlefield wounds.

The U.S. Air Force may soon use light to treat battlefield wounds.

The process is called "photochemical tissue bonding," and it can replace the stitches, staples and glues normally used to repair skin wounds. It can reconnect nerves, tendons, blood vessels and even corneal incisions.

Led by Harvard Medical School professors Irene Kochevar and Robert Redmond, researchers at Massachusetts General Hospital recently completed a pilot clinical study of the technology, which was first announced in 2009, to determine how effective laser sutures were compared to traditional stitches.

"We have demonstrated that this technology is very helpful in medicine for the Air Force because it produces better healing and functional outcomes than the same wounds that were treated with conventional materials," Kochevar said in a statement.

Here's how it works: First, a pink dye called Rose Bengal is applied to the wound or damaged tissue. Then the wound is exposed briefly to green light, which is absorbed by the dye.

That absorption, which excites electrons and causes crosslinking, allows it to bond proteins on the tissue surface at a molecular level, reconnecting collagen without heating the skin.

The benefits are many:

  • The process uses no proteins or glues that could cause additional inflammation.
  • The nanostitches are immediate.
  • The nanosutures are water-tight.
  • Because of the seal, there is better scar formation.
  • There's no reason to return to the doctor for removal of stitches because there are none.

The researchers are currently investigating how to shorten the treatment time and strengthen the bond in anticipation for use in the field.

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Andrew Nusca

Editor Emeritus

Andrew Nusca is editor of SmartPlanet and an associate editor for ZDNet. Previously, he worked at Money, Men's Vogue and Popular Mechanics magazines. He holds degrees from the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism and New York University. He is based in New York but resides in Philadelphia. Follow him on Twitter. Disclosure