Dr. Bodo Knudsen in the operating room using the Soltive SuperPulsed fiber laser to remove kidney stones. Credit: Courtesy of The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center

Kidney stones can be painful, but doctors at the Wexner Medical Center at Ohio State teamed up with a company to make treatment easier for patients in a way never done before. 

A two-month trial that ended Saturday made the medical center the first in North America to use Olympus Surgical Technologies’ Soltive SuperPulsed fiber laser to remove kidney stones, Bodo Knudsen, director of the comprehensive kidney stone program at the medical center, said. 

Knudsen said he and other physicians across different institutions have been working with Olympus the past couple of years on the project, so the company wanted Ohio State to be the first to use it, as it already had some experience.

Kurt Shelton, director of research and development for Olympus, said in an email that it took two years to decide to move forward with this new laser treatment.  

“We started researching the possibility of using this kind of laser for urology in early 2015. By mid-2017, we were confident in the advantages of the new technology in over to the current state of the art,” Shelton said.

Knudsen said this laser causes stones to break up into much smaller pieces and is more consistent compared with the current laser technology. 

“The laser energy is used to break up kidney stones,” Knudsen said. “Once we get to the stone, laser energy is delivered through a laser fiber that’s brought into contact with the stone. Once you’re touching the stone, activate the laser, and it delivers pulses of energy to the stone that breaks it up.”

This kind of procedure allows the break-up of larger stones to occur quickly, meaning less time under anesthetic and a faster recovery for patients, Knudsen said.  

The previously used laser for kidney stone procedures — the Holmium Yag — has been used for about 20 years, with some limitations, making the use of the Soltive SuperPulsed fiber laser one of the biggest breakthroughs in urology, Knudsen said. 

“Our early impressions is that it’s really meeting expectations,” Knudsen said. “We’ve been able to tackle some really big stones that we would’ve been reluctant to treat with the older laser.”

Knudsen said that since the new laser efficiently breaks the stones into small fragments and dust, stents aren’t needed as often. 

A stent is a temporary tube between the kidney and the bladder that helps the kidney drain, Knudsen said. It’s uncomfortable for patients and another procedure is needed for removal. 

Knudsen said the laser has other benefits for staff, as it’s smaller and more portable than the Holmium Yag laser, which needed a special outlet in operating rooms. 

“For the steps after the trial period, we have to decide as an institution if we are going to purchase it,” Knudsen said. “My hope certainly is that the hospital sees value in it and we are able to bring it on board permanently.” 

Olympus’ product development team developed the laser with the hope that it would help physicians get better clinical outcomes for patients, Shelton said. The plan is to use the feedback from the medical center to improve the laser in the future.

“This might open up some opportunities to use the laser in areas of the hospital where we traditionally haven’t used it,” Knudsen said.