If you haven’t already had laser eye surgery, odds are pretty good you will at some time in the future. A Korean-U.S.academic collaboration recently announced new technology that has the potential to improve laser surgery precision significantly. We’ve written before about synthetic soft tissue retinal implants, injectable lenses, and LCDs replacing human eye lenses. We’ve not previously covered laser eye surgery, a technology that was a giant leap ahead in ophthalmic surgical potentials. The excimer laser was not approved by the FDA for corrective eye surgery until 1995, although it was developed in the early 1970s and used in Russia for radical keratotomy (RK) throughout the 70s.
Researchers at the Korea Institute of Science and Technology (KIST), the University of Seoul in Korea, and Drexel University collaborated on technology that pulses stable laser light for just 600 femtoseconds (quadrillionths of a second). The scientists worked with MXenes, a class of composite materials created by combining carbon and/or nitrogen with transition metals from the middle of the periodic table. MXenes are already used in energy storage and gas-sensing applications but had not previously been studied for ultrafast optics applications. Skipping ahead of a lot more science to get to the health tech part, the collaborative team placed a device composed of titanium carbonitride MXene in a laser and discovered its ability to produce stable yet very short laser pulses that are femtoseconds — or millionths of billionths of a second — long. The big deal here isn’t just the speed. A femtosecond is a million times shorter than a picosecond, which is one-millionth of a millionth of a second. By adding stability to femtosecond speed pulses, the Korean and U.S. researchers open the possibility for eye surgery. The group study was published in the journal Advanced Materials.
Lasers cut or destroy by burning, that’s their job. Laser pulse speed control is a major factor in living tissue; if a laser pulse lasts too long, it risks the heat spreading and destroying more than just the target. If the pulse targeting is not exact, the prospect of a powerful cutting and burning tool bouncing around inside a human eye is a nonstarter. If your eye doctor told you they were going to use a laser that made very fast, tiny cuts in your eye to improve or repair your vision, any positive feelings you might have about the prospect would fade instantly if they added, “Of course, we do have to disclose that the laser is sometimes not all that stable, so there’s a risk.” By adding stability to femtosecond laser pulses, the element of control plus speed increases the chances of your future laser eye surgery resulting in better vision than you’ve ever had before.