from the October 2012 issue

Prof. Isaac Kaplan, father of laser surgery dies

A Beam of Light for the Benefit of Mankind
Nowhere is Israeli inventiveness more apparent than in laser technology, and nowhere have lasers been researched with more intensity than at the Weitzman Institute of Science.  Research aimed at utilizing solar radiation to produce laser beams has yielded the solid-state laser, developed by Professor Joseph Schwartz, of the Institute's Department of Chemical Physics, and Dr. Meyer Wechsler, a visiting scientist from El-Op Ltd., a Rehoboth-based electro-optics and engineering firm.  Experimentation with the most powerful solar-pumped laser operated anywhere in the world has yielded a record 100 watts of frequency-pure infrared laser light--double the power ever previously extracted from any type of sun-powered laser. The long-term goal is to design communication and industrial devices. Increasingly, lasers are being used in surgery, replacing the scalpel in such areas as ophthalmology, gynecology, gastroenterology, otolaryngology, neurosurgery, burn therapy, plastic and reconstructive surgery, dermatology, urology, orthopedics, thoracic surgery, and oncology.  If not for the conservatism of surgeons, it is likely that the number of Israeli-produced surgical lasers would exceed the 1,600 units now in use worldwide.

The history of laser surgery begins with the pioneering work of the South African-born surgeon, Isaac Kaplan.  Already well known for his great skill in reconstructive surgery when he settled in Israel, Dr. Kaplan performed hundreds of reconstructive surgical procedures on wounded Israeli soldiers.  Always interested in improving surgical procedures, he obtained a carbon-dioxide laser tube from Europe in the early 1970's.  Since a laser can focus exceptionally dense power and energy on a minute area, Dr. Kaplan reasoned that it could serve as a surgical device for cutting and removing body tissue by vaporization.  He sought the assistance of Uzi Sharon, an Israeli engineer, in making lasers both mechanically functional and easy to use.  In a burst of creative energy, Sharon created a prototype in just over a month.  Dr. Kaplan subsequently became world famous for his success in using lasers in surgery, and he is justly known as "the father of laser surgery."

Each year, more surgeons are switching to this method because of its bloodless, nontraumatic features.  The laser allows treatment of microscopic amounts of tissue, with negligible effects on surrounding healthy tissue.  Its cauterizing effect on the treatment site also reduces trauma and speeds healing, reduces patient discomfort, and minimizes scar tissue.  Hospitals tend to favor laser surgery because patients can return home sooner, reducing bed occupancy.  Lasers are also being used for other therapeutic and for diagnostic applications. Laser Industries, an Israeli company, is the world's leading producer of a broad range of carbon dioxide surgical lasers.  Others involved in medical lasers include the Eisenberg Group, which has established a research laboratory for laser applications in cardiology. Established in Chaim Sheba Medical Center in 1986 to develop and evaluate techniques for the treatment of heart disease, the research focuses on experiments which, if successful, could have a major commercial potential.  Currently under investigation is an evaluation of various laser systems and accessories for use in diagnosis and treatment of disease and damage, such as a surgical tool to scrape blocked blood vessels.  A possible spin-off of this research is aimed at the application of fiber optics in combination with medical lasers in dealing with heart disease.

Reprinted from the Israel High-Tech & Investment Report October 2012

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