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Industrial Outreach Nuggets

From basic research to the operating room

Examples of photonic bandgap fibers — smaller image shows a bundle of transmission fibers operating in the visible and ultraviolet, the different colors correspond to different transmitted wavelengths.

Infrared lasers have been used in various surgical procedures for many years. Many of these procedures, however, can only be performed in the operating room, with the patient under general anesthesia. Surgical operations of the larynx and trachea are prime examples. On Friday November 19th 2004, a minimally invasive procedure was performed on a patient with near-total obstruction of the larynx and trachea. The enabling technology for this operation was a new class of photonic bandgap fibers capable of transmitting CO2 laser energy at a wavelength of 10.6 microns. This technology evolved from MRSEC supported fundamental research (Temelkuran et al., Nature 420, 650-653, 2002). The procedure was performed by Dr. Jamie Koufman, the director of the Center for Voice and Swallowing Disorders of Wake Forest University at the Voice Center in Winston-Salem, North Carolina. The patient was awake during the procedure and was able to go home immediately thereafter. The patient’s growths in the larynx and trachea were cleared using a CO2 laser delivered endoscopically with a photonic bandgap fiber created by OmniGuide Communications. OmniGuide is a company that was launched on a technology platform based on basic research carried out in the MIT MRSEC. The company was founded by Professors Fink, Joannopoulos and Thomas of the MIT MRSEC program and Uri Kolodny, formerly of the MIT Sloan School.

Dr. Koufman said of the procedure, “Unsedated, laryngeal laser surgery with the OmniGuide Fiber and the new Pentax optical scopes is a dream come true for me as an endoscopic surgeon, and the patient who had this surgery loved it because it was easy for her.” She added, “OmniGuide has introduced a cutting-edge technology that will push out-patient laryngeal surgery to a new level; and, by moving most of laryngeal surgery out of the operating room and into the clinic, the cost savings per procedure will be measured in the tens of thousands of dollars, and the national cost savings will be huge.”

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