“It seemed that the laser-bonded cuts healed faster and looked better,” he says. The researchers are waiting to see how the two types of closures perform 12 months after surgery before publishing their results, but Katzir is optimistic and already planning the next trial, this time on hernia patients.
“It’s a fabulous process, with undeniable biological advantages,” says Michael Treat, a surgeon at New York Presbyterian Hospital and associate professor at Columbia University Medical Center. But rather than using lasers to replace a surgeon’s needle and thread, he believes that such technology might be better used in robotic systems, in which an entire procedure is automated.
“It’s cumbersome for a mechanical system to place sutures, but a laser beam is something that a computer would have an easy time controlling,” says Treat, who was involved in some of the field’s seminal work. And, he notes, another procedure that could benefit from laser-bonding is nerve repair, where sutures can easily leave too much scarring and rapid, ultra-fine control is essential.
One of Katzir’s competitors, Irene Kochevar, is a dermatology professor at Massachusetts General Hospital and is working on her own version of laser-bonded welding, but one that takes advantage of light rather than heat. “If I were to predict, I’d say that his technology and ours both lead to decreased scarring,” she says. “He’s carried the thermal approach to the highest degree of sophistication of anyone in this area.”
Katzir is already thinking beyond the next clinical trial, and believes that his method has a wide range of applications: everything from delicate surgeries on blood vessels to procedures such as cornea transplants, in which sutures can cause incredible discomfort and inflammation, and must remain in place for as long as a year or more.
“It’s not simply a replacement of what surgeons do well today,” he says, “but it will give surgeons a better tool to do better surgery in the future.”