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Concentrated sunlight can be used to perform surgery just as effectively as laser treatment – but at a fraction of the cost, according to a new study.

Researchers from the Ben-Gurion University of the Negev in Israel used concentrated sunbeams to kill tissue in anaesthetised rats. "Highly concentrated sunlight [produced] the same rapid, localised and extensive damage that is achieved in laser surgery," they write in this week's Nature.

Last year, the same researchers revealed that they had built equipment that could direct sunlight – concentrated 15,000-fold – into a fibre-optic cable, which could carry the beam to the operating theatre (see Solar surgery hots up).

Initial tests on chicken meat suggested that this concentrated sunlight had comparable effects on tissue to laser burns. But until now such 'solar surgery' had not been tested on live animals.

"This is the first time that intense … light has been applied successfully in [this kind of] medical procedure to kill a sizable and prescribed extent of organ tissue," the researchers write.

Lasers have proved particularly useful in surgical procedures as they allow for precise, clean cutting of tissues, for example in certain eye surgery techniques.

Link to research article in Nature

Reference: Nature 424, 510 (2003)

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