Excimer Laser Surgery: Laying the Foundation for Laser Refractive Surgery

On November 27, 1981, the day after Thanksgiving, Dr. Rangaswamy Srinivasan brought leftovers from his Thanksgiving dinner into the IBM Thomas J. Watson Research Center, where he irradiated turkey cartilage with ~10-nsec pulses of light from an argon fluoride (ArF) excimer laser. This irradiation produced a clean-looking “incision” in the cartilage, as observed through an optical microscope. Subsequently, Srinivasan and his IBM colleague, Dr. Samuel E. Blum, team carried out further irradiation of turkey cartilage samples under controlled conditions, measuring the laser fluence and the number of pulses used to produce the incisions. Srinivasan gave a sample to me, and, for comparison, I irradiated it with ~10-nsec pulses of 532-nm light from a Q-switched, frequency-doubled, Nd:YAG laser. This irradiation did not incise the sample; rather it created a burned, charred region of tissue. Fig. 1 shows three different views and magnifications of scanning electron micrographs (SEM) of the sample, revealing the stunningly different morphology of the two irradiated regions, the clean incision with no evidence of thermal damage, etched steadily deeper by a sequence of pulses of 193-nm light, and the damaged region produced by the pulses of 532-nm light.

Srinivasan, Blum and I realized that we had discovered something novel and unexpected, and we wrote an invention disclosure, completed on Dec. 31, 1981. Our disclosure described multiple potential surgical applications, on hard tissue (bones and teeth) as well as soft tissue. We anticipated that the absence of collateral damage to the tissue underlying and adjacent to the incision produced in vitro would result in minimal collateral damage when the technique was applied in vivo. The ensuing healing would be free of fibrosis and the resulting scar tissue. We recognized that we had a laser surgical method that was a radical departure from all other laser surgical techniques that had been developed since the operation of the first laser on May 16, 1960. Rather than photocoagulating the irradiated tissue, the excimer laser was ablating a thin layer of tissue from the surface with each pulse, leaving negligible energy behind, insufficient to thermally damage the tissue underlying and adjacent to the incised volume. This insight was unprecedented and underlies the subsequent application of our discovery to laser refractive surgery.

By: James J. Wynne

Published in: RC25286 in 2012


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