ECE: Electrical & Computer Engineering
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Biomedical applications

Burning cancer with fiberoptic microneedles

Microneedle

Microneedle penetration of ex vivo porcine skin

ECE assistant professor Yong Xu is on a team that is working on a minimally invasive technology for laser-based photothermal therapy. Currently, laser therapies are limited by the difficulty of getting high doses of light into deep tumor tissue while avoiding injury to nearby healthy tissue. Xu and his team have invented a fiberoptic microneedle device (FMD), which enables what Xu calls “a new regime of minimally-invasive therapeutic procedures.” The FMD is comprised of one or more optically transparent glass fibers guided into a patient’s tissue by a novel elastomeric support ferrule,” explains Xu. Each fiber is tapered to a needle point and is only 40 microns in diameter. This allows the needles to penetrate the skin painlessly, “similar to the dynamics of a mosquito bite.”

The team also envisions several additional applications of the device. By using hollow fiber tubes, nanomaterials or drugs can be inserted to a target site. It will be possible to deliver chemotherapy directly to a tumor, rather than run the risk of introducing it into the patient’s whole system. Before treatment, the microneedle device also can be used to detect and identify cancer. Xu is working with Chris Rylander and Nichole Rylander of SBES on the project, which is funded by the NSF.