St Andrews University researchers have developed a state-of-the-art technique to rapidly heal deep flesh wounds.
It could give doctors the ability to repair tissue from the inside without scarring and could also be used to treat tumours more efficiently.
The new method, details of which were published in the academic journal Nature Communications, delivers light deeper into human tissue than previously possible and offers several medical advances.
It works by applying light to a wound to stimulate healing through a process called photochemical tissue bonding, a practice previously limited to treating superficial wounds.
Traditional methods use fibre-optic devices and catheters made from glass or plastic, which remain in the body permanently or until surgically removed.
But the new research shows special fibres can be made from materials that will be reabsorbed by the body, without the need for removal and the risk of damaging the newly-repaired tissue.
The scientists had set out to develop a technology for tissue repair that would allow the method to be used on parts of the human body deeper than the outer skin layers. They eventually found a way to make biodegradable optical fibres which, when inserted into the body, deliver light to heal internal wounds locally, and could be used after surgery.
Professor Malte Gather, of St Andrews University, said the breakthrough could have “dramatic implications” in medicine.
He said: “A variety of optical techniques, such as photochemical tissue bonding and photodynamic therapy, require efficient delivery of light deep into tissues, but the current limited penetration of light in tissue constitutes a serious constraint in clinical use.
“Having biocompatible and bioabsorbable optical components may transform photomedicine from a discipline where light is predominantly applied externally, to a new paradigm based on tissue-integrated and precisely controlled delivery and collection of light.”
He added the findings could also have uses in several other areas, such as long-term photodynamic therapy (PDT) for cancer treatment, as well as implanted endoscopy after surgery for imaging and monitoring of the healing process.
The findings were the result of a joint effort between researchers at St Andrews University and Harvard Medical School in the United States.