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Fat-Melting Laser Could Erase Acne

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ANN ARBOR, Mich., Sept. 8, 2011 — A new laser designed to melt fat without burning surrounding tissue shows promise for acne treatment.

The laser’s 1708-nm infrared beam takes advantage of a unique wavelength that fat absorbs more efficiently than water can. It can penetrate skin with minimal harm on its way to reaching and destroying deeper pockets of fat. Researchers at the University of Michigan believe that the laser can also target the oil-producing sebaceous glands that are involved in acne production.

A laser developed at the University of Michigan can selectively target and damage sebaceous glands, which are known to play a role in acne. (Image: Mohammed Islam)

“Typically it's very hard to penetrate deep enough in the skin because of water absorption, but we picked a wavelength that's tuned in to fats,” said Mohammed Islam, a professor of electrical engineering and internal medicine.

To prevent superficial burns, the researchers found that they first had to cool the skin before treating it. They performed the experiments on human samples that had been removed due to their proximity to nonmelanoma skin cancers. They found that the laser, which is the size of a DVD player, can reach glands more than 1.5 mm beneath the skin.

“Toward the middle of the last decade, there were experiments like this done using a free-electron laser that was pretty much the size of an entire hospital. It was an interesting result, but it wasn't a practical light source,” Islam said. “I'm a fiber optics guy. We're taking what we've known for years in that field and building a laser that's compact and economical and has real potential to make it to the marketplace.”

The team is not the first to think of this type of treatment, but it is believed to be the first to propose doing it with off-the-shelf telecommunications technology.

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Sep 2011
1708 nm infrared beamacneAmericasBiophotonicsCommunicationsfat-melting laserfree electron laserMohammed IslamResearch & Technologytelecommunications technologyUniversity of Michiganlasers

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