The target is toenail fungus — an infection in an estimated 10 percent of American adults, or 23 million people — that causes toenails to become thick, yellow and fetid.
If these lasers, which recently completed small clinical trials, work, they will represent a new way to treat nail infection by selectively irradiating fungi while leaving the nail and surrounding tissue intact.
Right now, there is no sure cure. The fungi are so hardy that popular antifungal pills, which carry a small risk of liver damage, are completely successful less than half of the time. And a prescription lacquer, painted on the toenails daily for 48 weeks, has a complete cure rate of less than 10 percent.
Pharmaceutical giants like Schering-Plough and Novartis are developing new lacquers, pills and ointments to battle the fungi. But some podiatrists and patients are pinning their hopes on the experimental laser treatments.
Nomir Medical Technologies in Waltham, Mass., is developing a laser called Noveon for diseases like antibiotic-resistant staph infections as well as nail afflictions.
Noveon is a type of laser already commonly used by doctors for treatments like cataract surgery, dental work and even hair removal. Noveon beams two different wavelengths of near-infrared light at toenails to selectively take aim at and kill fungi.
After four treatments with Noveon, about half of the 39 toenails tested no longer had active nail infections, according to the results of a clinical trial that the company presented this month at a national dermatology meeting. Six months after the initial treatment, about 76 percent of the volunteers had clear nail growth, the study reported.
“We will be able to reach people who have heretofore stayed away from...