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J Endovasc Ther. 2004 Dec;11 Suppl 2:II207-22.

The excimer laser: science fiction fantasy or practical tool?

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  • 1Clinical and Interventional Angiology, Heart Center Leipzig, Germany.


Nearly 20 years ago, in vitro experiments left no doubt about the fact that laser light can ablate atherosclerotic plaque. The initial enthusiastic results with the technology, particularly in coronary arteries, were followed by reports showing unacceptably high restenosis and complication rates. These poor results were due to the premature application of an underdeveloped technology, a lack of understanding of laser/tissue interaction, and the use of incorrect lasing techniques. Consequently, and without discrimination, all lasers were banned from the catheterization laboratories for nearly a decade. Technological enhancements of the excimer laser, combined with refined catheter lasing techniques, resulted in greater debulking of atherosclerotic material in long superficial femoral artery occlusions. These results triggered the application of the excimer laser technique as an atherectomy tool in more complex lesions below the knee. The multicenter Laser Atherectomy for Critical Ischemia study clearly demonstrated that the excimer laser technology resulted in limb salvage rates >90% in patients with critical limb ischemia (CLI). Furthermore, new clinical results indicate that the excimer laser is very effective in dissolving thrombotic obstructions, redirecting this technology to the coronary field. The results of the excimer laser in CLI validate the role of the cool laser in treating complex peripheral vascular disease. The results suggest a larger indication for this technology and support a more aggressive use of these interventional techniques in the treatment of this large patient cohort. However, all lasers are not equally effective in debulking atherosclerotic material. Only the athermic process associated with the excimer laser produces a safe and effective endovascular ablation of obstructive atherosclerotic and/or thrombotic material. The appropriate and safe utilization of the equipment and lasing techniques, combined with correct indications and patient selection, will contribute to the successful application of laser-assisted atherectomy in complex peripheral and coronary artery obstructive disease. Unfortunately, little consistent scientific data has been generated to convince the interventional community of the usefulness of excimer laser ablation.

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