The University Record, July 9, 2001

Laser ‘scalpel’ improves eye surgery

From the College of Engineering

A cross-disciplinary team of U-M researchers has developed a procedure for using an ultrafast laser to make precise surgical cuts in the human cornea. The procedure, which is expected to reduce complications associated with the popular laser in situ keratomileusis (LASIK) eye surgery, was tested in clinical trials and received Food and Drug Administration approval earlier this year.

A report on the procedure is in the June issue of Ophthalmology Clinics of North America.

The team was composed of engineers associated with the University’s Center for Ultrafast Optical Science (CUOS) and medical professionals from the Kellogg Eye Center.

“The collaborations were very important in this project, which allowed us to apply the precision of physics and materials science to a medical application that benefits a large number of people,” says Gérard Mourou, CUOS director.

Two U-M researchers—Tibor Juhasz, associate professor of biomedical engineering, and Ron Kurtz, assistant professor of ophthalmology and visual sciences—co-founded IntraLase Corp. to commercialize the new laser, with additional support from the National Science Foundation (NSF), the National Eye Institute and the Department of Defense.

LASIK has revolutionized vision correction surgery. In traditional LASIK surgery, a mechanical blade called a microkeratome is used to cut a flap of cornea, an excimer laser is used to reshape or remove a portion of the cornea, then the flap is repositioned. Now, surgeons can use the very precise femtosecond laser to create the initial flap. The laser emits light in extremely fast pulses, each pulse roughly a billion times faster than an electronic camera flash.

Use of the femtosecond laser to cut corneal flaps reduces the chance of uneven cuts or collateral tissue damage.

“The path from an NSF Science and Technology Center to the marketplace is an excellent example of how federal funding of basic research can lead to new technologies with broad social benefit,” says Robert Eisenstein, NSF’s assistant director for mathematical and physical sciences.