Scientists in the U.S. are in the process of developing a laser which melts fat and they believe that in future it could be used to treat heart disease, cellulite, and acne.
A team of researchers at the Wellman Center for Photomedicine at Massachusetts General Hospital, Harvard Medical School and the Department of Energy's Thomas Jefferson National Accelerator Facility, say the laser is able to heat up fat in the body without harming the overlying skin.
By using a high intensity laser beam they were able for the first time to heat the fat up, which was then broken down and excreted by the body.
In the experiment pig fat and skin samples about two inches thick were used and a free-electron laser (FEL).
The technique used made it possible to target and melt fat without causing any adverse effects on the overlying skin.
The researchers zapped the pig skin-and-fat tissue samples with beams of infrared laser light at two wavelengths and found it was possible to heat the pig fat to a depth of 1 cm without causing any adverse effect to the overlying skin.
The researchers believe the study results show that selective photothermolysis (selectively heating tissues with light) promises a range of medical applications.
According to Dr. Rox Anderson, the lead author of the study and a practicing dermatologist at Massachusetts General Hospital, the team are optimistic about the use of this technique to target sebaceous glands, the principal cause of acne.
They believe it could eventually replace the currently available treatment for acne, which uses a drug called Accutane.
Accutane has a number of adverse effects, in particular a high incidence of birth defects in children whose mothers have used the drug in pregnancy.
Dr. Anderson also hopes the treatment will work in diseases with a high degree of lipid-rich tissues such as atherosclerosis, the leading cause of heart attacks and strokes.
The laser therapy could also be an effective tool to treat unwanted cellulite, a dimpling of the skin caused by the deposition of fat in the dermis layer of the skin.
The condition, also called the orange peel effect, affects more than 85 percent of post pubescent females.
Previous therapies including liposuction have not provided any satisfactory solution to this condition.
Dr Anderson says they plan to develop laser devices that are capable of producing desirable fat-busting results, but say it will be several years before the technique could be tested on humans.
The results of the research were presented to the annual meeting of the American Society for Laser Medicine and Surgery.