'Star Trek'-Like Medical Device Heals Wounds With a Laser

New technique allows wounds to be sutured with lasers . St. Andrews University/Nature Communications

The world of "Star Trek" is replete with a number of futuristic technologies that we can only imagine as far-fetched possibilities today. But here's one "Star Trek"-like device that might soon become a real thing: the dermal regenerator.

In the sci-fi series, dermal regenerators are medical devices that can repair wounds to the skin in a matter of moments as the laser-like wand is passed over the damaged area. Now scientists from the University of St. Andrews and Harvard Medical School have developed something similar, a laser-based technology that can suture wounds without the need for stitches or staples, reports Gizmodo.

The idea to use lasers to heal wounds is actually not a new one, but previous techniques have encountered limitations. Most notably, lasers haven't been able to reach deeper wounds without causing damage to skin tissue. It's on this matter that the new technology sets itself apart, however. The key is in the development of a waveguide that can focus laser light down into deep wounds. Better yet, this waveguide is made from a biodegradable polymer, so it can be left in the wound to break down harmlessly after the injury has properly healed.

The laser works to repair skin by linking up dermal collagen proteins. Basically, a medical dye called rose bengal is first applied to the wound. When struck with a laser beam, this dye steals an electron from nearby collagen molecules. Since the molecules find themselves missing an electron, they bind to each other to make up for the imbalance. This forms a natural seal, essentially allowing skin to rapidly close the wound.

Unlike with physical sutures, which can cause inflammation, this technique allows skin to bind right down to the molecular level, so it is far less invasive and doesn't cause scarring.

Researchers already have a name for the new methodology: "photomedicine." And it may be only a matter of time before sutures and staples become a thing of the past, perhaps even viewed as barbaric or crude. Imagine being able to seal up a wound with just the flash of a laser beam. It's reality catching up with science fiction. The world of "Star Trek" may not be so far into the future after all.