Scientists in Australia have used internet links to successfully perform microsurgery on cells located thousands of miles away in a southern California laboratory.
The surgeons used a newly developed internet-based laser scissor-and-tweezers technology called RoboLase, demonstrating the potential of using the technology for real-time research activities between laboratories and to perform medical procedures from distant locations.
In a proof-of-concept series of experiments, the scientists from UC Irvine, UC San Diego and the University of Queensland employed RoboLase to produce surgical holes in a distinct pattern less than one micron in diameter (1/1000th of a millimetre) in single cells.
Using a control panel projected onto a computer screen, researchers in Queensland were able to remotely perform the cell surgery on a laser microscope system in the southern California laboratory.
A screen-grab of the operation can be seen here.
"The speed and precision of the sub-cellular surgery was the same as if we were doing it in our labs here in California," said Michael Berns, professor of biomedical engineering at UCI, and adjunct professor of bioengineering at UC San Diego, who led the development of the RoboLase technology.
The scientists were also able to grab, or "optically trap", swimming sperm in the California lab by operating optical-laser tweezers remotely from Australia.
This was heralded as "a particularly noteworthy accomplishment" because it demonstrated the amount of computer bandwidth (one gigabyte per second) needed by the research groups to observe and grab a fast-moving sperm with virtually no detectible delay in image transmission between the laboratories.
"If there was a detectible delay in either the transmission or reception of the video images our colleagues in Australia would not have been able to identify and trap a targeted sperm under the laser microscope in the California laboratory," explained Linda Shi of UCSD, one of the key developers of the unique computer software used in the sperm-trapping experiments.
According to Berns, who is the founding director of the Beckman Laser Institute at UCI, the general significance of this work is that researchers can now collaborate on experiments with scientists around the world without having to travel to a laboratory site.
He added that the experiments serve to demonstrate that the internet will become increasingly more useful and important for the actual conduct of scientific research and possibly for the delivery of selective medical procedures.
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