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Laser Optimal: thermal measurements for minimally invasive surgery

LASER OPTIMAL is a five-year project funded by the European Research Council with the prestigious ERC Starting Grant: launched in May 2018, it aims at developing a therapeutic platform based on the use of laser technologies for a minimally invasive removal of deep-seated and localized tumors. The LASER OPTIMAL team is active within MeccPolimi under the guidance of Prof. Paola Saccomandi, and keeps on growing: Martina, Somayeh, Sanzhar, Leonardo, Nava and soon Ahad are developing the different phases of the project, also in collaboration with international partners.

The idea is developed in a wider research context, which in recent years has seen a rapid growth in increasingly intelligent procedures for biomedical applications, with the aim of creating personalized therapies whose effects can be monitored in real time.

The research is divided into three main phases:

  1. the temperature measurement of target tissue that is subjected to near infrared laser treatment. In this context, at the LAMBDA Lab (Laboratory of Measurements for Biomedical Applications, operational since May 2019), a measurement chain with fiber optic sensors with submillimetric spatial resolution has been set up in order to allow the accurate reconstruction of three-dimensional heat maps in biological tissues. Thermometric methods with diagnostic imaging systems and a control system of the energy deposited thanks to temperature feedback are also being studied.
  2. the use of nanotechnologies to make the treatment selective and limit the thermal damage to the healthy tissues surrounding the lesion. The thermal efficiency of various functionalized nanomaterials (including gold, copper oxide) has been evaluated experimentally, and, in parallel, work is underway to implement simulations of laser-tissue-nanoparticle interaction.
  3. the development of mathematical models to predict the effectiveness of the proposed treatment and to guide the procedure, through the implementation of data-driven simulations for the estimation of the parameters of the patient-specific model starting from the measured temperatures, in collaboration with the MIMESIS team from INRIA (France).

In these first two years, in particular, tests were conducted on the laser-tissue-nanoparticle interaction on in vivo models (at the Beckman Research Institute in City of Hope, California), and an innovative measurement system was developed of thermal damage with hyperspectral imaging techniques (in collaboration with Institute of Image-guided Surgery, France). This innovative approach will be further investigated thanks to a new funding from the MIUR - FARE call, as part of the four-year HYPERSIGHT project. During the activities, new collaborations were born, such as that with the Technion - Israel Institute of Technology, with ORT Braude Academic College (Karmiel, Israel), with the Mario Negri Institute for Pharmacological Research, and with Institute of Automation and Electrometry SB RAS (Novosibirsk, Russia).

Finally, thanks to the funding of the Cariplo Foundation which gave birth to the LASEROPTIMAL @ POLIMI project and supported the preparation of the research laboratory, another member of the team, Davide, is working on the development of measurement systems for personal health, aimed at monitoring posture and measuring the shape and deformation of objects with fiber optic sensors.