Laser blasts viruses in blood

September 4, 2007

A father-son research team working from separate laboratory benches across the country has discovered a new use for lasers - zapping viruses out of blood. The technique, which holds promise for disinfecting blood for transfusions, uses a low-power laser beam with a pulse lasting just fractions of a second.

Johns Hopkins University student Shaw-Wei David Tsen says it was during a stroll in the park with his father that the idea was born. Tsen, an immunology researcher in the laboratory of T.C. Wu at Hopkins’ Kimmel Cancer Center, sought a new method to rid isolated blood of dangerous pathogens, including the viruses HIV and hepatitis C. He says current techniques using UV irradiation and radioisotopes can leave a trail of mutated or damaged blood components.

Using ultrasonic vibrations to destroy viruses was one possibility, but his father, Kong-Thon Tsen, a laser expert at Arizona State University, had a better idea: Lasers, unlike ultrasound, can penetrate energy-absorbing water surrounding the viruses and directly vibrate the pathogen itself.

The researchers aimed a low-power laser with a pulse lasting 100 femtoseconds (10-13 second) into glass tubes containing saline-diluted viruses that infect bacteria, also known as bacteriophages. The amount of infectious virus within each cube plummeted 100- to 1000-fold after the laser treatment. “I had to repeat the experiment several times to convince myself that the laser worked this well,” says the younger Tsen.

His laser is different from those emitting a continuous beam of visible light. “Our laser repeatedly sends a rapid pulse of light and then relaxes, allowing the solution surrounding the virus to cool off,” Tsen says. “This significantly reduces heat damage to normal blood components.”

Building on the idea that vibration wrecks a virus’ outer shell, the scientists found that their low-power laser selectively destroys viruses and spares normal human cells around them, while stronger beams kill almost everything.

Father and son speculate that laser vibrations could destroy drug-resistant and -sensitive viruses alike.

Wu says that the technique his student developed “could potentially be used to control communicable diseases by giving infusions of laser-treated blood products.”

The scientists published their results in the July 13 issue of the Journal of Physics: Condensed Matter. They will continue their studies using different viruses.

Says Wu, “We believe this work on bacterial viruses is promising, but the real test will be with more serious pathogens like HIV and hepatitis.”

Source: Johns Hopkins Medical Institutions

Explore further: Rapidly identifying life-threatening bacteria in hospitals

Related Stories

Rapidly identifying life-threatening bacteria in hospitals

January 26, 2017

Soon, hospitals will be able to identify the bacterial species responsible for a patient's developing infection in a matter of just a few minutes. A new, easy-to-adapt and inexpensive analytical procedure has been developed ...

Building A Handheld HIV Detector

April 1, 2010

Most Africans infected with HIV live in rural areas, where access to HIV testing has lagged behind the growing availability of HIV-fighting drugs.

Fine-tuning lasers to destroy blood-borne diseases like AIDS

November 1, 2007

Physicists in Arizona State University have designed a revolutionary laser technique which can destroy viruses and bacteria such as AIDS without damaging human cells and may also help reduce the spread of hospital infections ...

Recommended for you

New CERN results show novel phenomena in proton collisions

April 25, 2017

In a paper published today in Nature Physics , the ALICE collaboration reports that proton collisions sometimes present similar patterns to those observed in the collisions of heavy nuclei. This behaviour was spotted through ...

Chip-based nanoscopy: Microscopy in HD quality

April 24, 2017

Physicists at Bielefeld University and the Arctic University of Norway in Tromsø have developed a photonic chip that makes it possible to carry out super-resolution light microscopy, also called 'nanoscopy,' with conventional ...

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.