Progress in minimal invasive surgery: ERC advanced grant for CFEL and UHH scientists

The European Research Council has granted Professor R. J. Dwayne Miller, CFEL, MPSD and Department of Physics at the University of Hamburg, 2.5 million euros worth of funding over five years for a joint research project with the University Medical Center Hamburg-Eppendorf (UKE). Advanced Investigator Grants are awarded to outstanding scientists and their innovative research projects throughout Europe.

With the Picosecond-Infrared-Laser (PIRL) system, the new laser technology developed by the Miller Group, minimal invasive, more precise, less scaring surgery will be made possible in the future. Removed tissue like tumor cells can get analyzed in an inactive state.

Eighth ERC Grant for the UHH and First ERC Grant for CFEL
“The ERC Advanced Grant is a special award acknowledging the international significance of the scientific work of Dwayne Miller and the research performance of the UHH physics and medicine departments, respectively.” says Prof. Dr. Dieter Lenzen, the president of the University of Hamburg, “I’m delighted that Professor Miller and his research project were so successful in this challenging European competition. The University of Hamburg has now been awarded the total of eight ERC grants underlining the capabilities of our scientists, men and women, internationally.
Lasers can cut tissue with greater precision than knives – in theory at the level of single cells. However, in practice it has not proven possible to do this in laser surgery. Whilst cutting, the energy of the laser light transforms the structure of matter from a solid to a gas state; shock waves and heat result, damaging and burning the neighboring cells.
The newly developed ultrashort pulsing laser scalpel PIRL solves these problems.

Vaporization of cells
The development of the laser scalpel is based on the discovery that it is possible to convert matter from one phase such as solid or liquid to gas on time scales too fast for any other process to occur. By means of atomically resolved movies of structural changes, recorded by the Miller Group, the corresponding timescale could be defined. The PIRL was programmed to stimulate the water cells within the tissue; the new pulsing beam measuring 100 picoseconds (one ten-thousandth of a millionth of a second) effectively acting as a propellant to drive the water molecules into the gas phase , while using a mere fifth of the energy of other laser systems. The process is so fast and targets individual cells so precisely that neither shock waves nor heat are able to affect any neighboring cells.
Cell - by - cell cutting with scalpel
The tissue removed is also better preserved and is thus able to undergo more precise examination, determination of the tissue composition at molecular level, for example when searching for tumorous cells. The researchers aim to cut a cell so precisely and to program the laser so that it either avoids vital tissue such as nerve cells or arteries, or stops cutting of its own accord when it comes to close.
The ERC project title is “Picosecond Infrared Laser for Scar Free Surgery with Preservation of Tissue Structure and Recognition of Tissue Type and Boundaries”, or SUREPIRL in short.