Detachable microsphere scalpel tips for potential use in ophthalmic surgery with the erbium:YAG laser

Thomas C. Hutchens, Arash Darafsheh, Amir Fardad, Andrew N. Antoszyk, Howard S. Ying, Vasily N. Astratov, Nathaniel M. Fried

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

26 Scopus citations


Vitreoretinal surgery is performed using mechanical dissection that sometimes results in iatrogenic complications, including vitreous hemorrhage, retinal breaks, incomplete membrane delamination, retinal distortion, microscopic damage, etc. An ultraprecise laser probe would be an ideal tool for cutting away pathologic membranes; however, the depth of surgery should be precisely controlled to protect the sensitive underlying retina. The ultraprecise surgical microprobe formed by chains of dielectric spheres for use with the erbium: YAG laser source (λ = 2940 nm), with extremely short optical penetration depth in tissue, was optimized. Numerical modeling demonstrated a potential advantage of five-sphere focusing chains of sapphire spheres with index n = 1.71 for ablating the tissue with self-limited depth around 10 to 20 μm. Novel detachable microsphere scalpel tips formed by chains of 300 μm sapphire (or ruby) spheres were tested on ophthalmic tissues, ex vivo. Detachable scalpel tips could allow for reusability of expensive mid-infrared trunk fibers between procedures, and offer more surgical customization by interchanging various scalpel tip configurations. An innovative method for aiming beam integration into the microsphere scalpel to improve the illumination of the surgical site was also shown. Single Er:YAG pulses of 0.2 mJ and 75-μs duration produced ablation craters in cornea epithelium for one, three, and five sphere structures with the latter generating the smallest crater depth (10 μm) with the least amount of thermal damage depth (30 μm). Detachable microsphere laser scalpel tips may allow surgeons better precision and safety compared to mechanical scalpels when operating on delicate or sensitive areas like the retina.

Original languageEnglish
Article number018003
JournalJournal of biomedical optics
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 2014


  • Erbium:YAG laser
  • Light focusing
  • Microspheres
  • Ophthalmic surgery


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