April 15, 2006
Laser Might Zap Away Zits for Good
Treatment spares skin while targeting acne-linked glands
A prominent dermatological researcher says he's developed a laser treatment that zaps fat through the skin and could help people with conditions ranging from acne to obesity and clogged arteries.The treatment has so far only been tested on animal fat, and there's no guarantee it will work in humans. But Dr. Rox Anderson, a professor of dermatology at Harvard Medical School, Boston, said it holds plenty of promise, especially in treating acne.
"I'm pretty hopeful about this one," said Anderson, who previously helped develop laser treatments that remove unwanted hair, birthmarks and tattoos.
Anderson unveiled his laser treatment recently at the American Society for Laser Medicine and Surgery annual meeting, in Boston.
According to Anderson, he was able to aim a laser at pig flesh and burn only the fat underneath without injuring the skin. The key was finding the right wavelength that would target fat cells, but not skin cells.
"We heat the fat up just enough to kill the cells," he said. "Cells are always dying in your body, so other mechanisms remove the cells."
One possible application for the laser might be the zapping of the greasy glands that cause acne, he said.
Despite advances in treatment over the last few decades, acne remains a common and disfiguring condition. Drugs like Accutane treat acne but have side effects and can cause serious birth defects if used by pregnant women.
If it works, the laser treatment could eliminate acne permanently by partially destroying the troublesome glands. Anderson said. "My personal goal is to cure acne," he said. "I can't tell you if I'll do it or not."
The laser treatment has other potential uses in the skin-care field and might serve as an alternative to liposuction, Anderson said. The laser could even zap the fatty buildup that causes clogged arteries.
There are caveats. Human tests haven't begun, although they could start within the next year, according to Anderson. And the laser treatment won't be painless, so patients will probably need anesthesia, he said.
At least one dermatologist thinks the laser treatment might work.
"Dr. Anderson is one of the giants of dermatology," said Dr. Steve Feldman, a professor of dermatology at Wake Forest University School of Medicine. "I wouldn't put it past him to be able to solve any problem in dermatology by finding just the right laser."
However, Feldman cautioned that "while this does seem promising, one would like to see the clinical trials before getting too excited."
To learn more about acne, head to the U.S. National Institutes of Health.