Lecture 6 - Crystals, lasers and the human body

From the programme:

In our final lecture we highlight the significance of the occurrence of crystals in living matter. We also focus on the way lasers have contributed both to our understanding and treatment of many of the diseases that afflict human beings.

Crystalline arrangements of molecules are found in the living world not only in the normal healthy state of bones and muscles, tendons and teeth, but also in association with conditions such as gout, osteoarthritis and muscular diseases. One of the scientific challenges of the age is to design and rebuild human bones that may be used in hip-replacement operations.

Laser light can be piped via optical fibres into various parts of the body thereby affording unique insights into the mechanisms of a range of life processes as well as offering a means of curing hitherto intractable conditions. Lasers can be used as cutting tools; those that operate in the infrared are often employed for this purpose. More recently, ultra violet lasers have been used to cause ‘ablation’ of tissue in which the surface, for example of a blood vessel, irradiated with such a laser disappears without any rise in temperature. This painless removal of tissue has great promise in medicine. By labelling some diseased tissue, notable that which is cancerous, with particular dyestuffs, selective destruction of this can be achieved using red lasers. This technique, known as photodynamic therapy (PDT) will be demonstrated. Other uses of light in medicine will be illustrated. 






John Meurig Thomas and David Phillips



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