Perhaps the only advances in medical technology which excite more than today’s minimally invasive devices and procedures are the ones that will come to market over the next several decades. Medical futurists speak with credibility about the prospect of human beings born today living 150 years, enjoying good health and an active quality of life.
“I often think that longevity technology sounds like science fiction, and much of it used to be, but it isn’t science fiction anymore.”
– Sonia Arrison¹, from her book 100 Plus: How the Coming Age of Longevity Will Change Everything, From Careers and Relationships to Family and Faith. (Basic Books 2011)
Can it really happen? Consider another series of technological leaps that unfolded over the last century. Imagine what people must have thought when the Wright brothers and other early aviation pioneers first took to the sky. Perhaps some could envision a world where everyday people routinely flew on airplanes, but could anyone imagine men flying to the moon –something that would happen just six decades after Orville and Wilber? What about everyday people flying into space for an out of this world vacation? Well, that’s about to happen. And in just a few decades these everyday space travelers will also live to ages that are hard for people to comprehend.
The advances that will make this future possible are here today with the world of micro-medical devices and smart drugs that target specific disease sites in the body. Femtosecond lasers help make these innovations real. Let’s look at one example where these solutions are enabling patient outcomes not possible just a decade ago.
Artificial heart valves no longer need to be installed via an open heart procedure, requiring weeks of expensive hospital recovery time, risk of infection and an array of complications including death. Today, valves are mounted on stent-like scaffolding wrapped around a balloon catheter.
The compact device is delivered to the heart via an incision in an artery or through the chest wall and moved into position where the balloon is inflated to deploy the scaffolding holding the valve. The scaffolding is designed to anchor in just the right place; the balloon is deflated and retracted from the site while the new valve remains in place.
Some of the issues identified in early technology and Transcatheter Aortic Valve Replacement (TAVR) system design for treatment of valvular heart disease included the need for low profile designs to improve deliverability of the prosthetic valve and the capability to reposition the valve during implant. Raydiance’s all-laser solutions enable manufacturers to re-design TAVR products and streamline the manufacturing process for several key micro components. A larger population of patients, who were not previously considered candidates, can now be treated for TAVR.
Femtosecond lasers backed by optimized control software are capable of creating perfectly uniform scaffolding struts. This uniformity is directly responsible for the perfect fit when a new valve is deployed. There are other mechanical methods to create heart valve scaffolding, but these production techniques are slow and expensive relative to all-laser manufacturing.
As medical device designs and device delivery systems become more complex and the micron scale features more intricate, the heat used in conventional micromachining processes to produce parts—including EDM and picosecond or nanosecond laser processing—create mechanical stress and flaws in nitinol, bare metals and new polymers or heat-sensitive bioabsorbable materials. This significantly impacts product performance and requires multiple post-processing steps, from cleaning, honing and deburring to etching and polishing, to “fix” the problems caused by manufacturing.
In sharp contrast, the all-laser approach fast-tracks medical device manufacturing to the 21st century with one-step precision, superior part-to-part consistency, reliable performance and rapid innovation.
If babies born today are predicted to enjoy life well into the 22nd century, the human race will require medical devices and technology that everyone can afford. Femtosecond laser-based advancements may well prove to be the enabling solutions.
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1. Sonia Arrison is a Senior Fellow at the Pacific Research Institute and a columnist for TechNewsWorld. Her work has appeared on CNN and in the Los Angeles Times, New York Times, Wall Street Journal, and USA Today. She lives in Atherton, California.