Laser technology to offer an instant analysis of cancerous brain tissue

Accuracy is everything when you’re studying and treating the brain. This is why scientists need very precise methods and tools to deal with various conditions such as brain cancer. Now scientists at the University of Waterloo took a significant step towards development of laser imaging technology, which could precisely guide doctors during brain surgeries.

Brain tumours need to be removed very precisely for the best clinical outcomes. Image credit: via Wikimedia (CC BY-SA 4.0)

When doctors are trying to remove tumors from the brain, they are always trying to touch the least amount of healthy tissue possible. Removal of healthy tissue may have huge consequences on the patient’s health and the quality of life. In order to remove the tumour very precisely, very precise instruments have to be used. Scientists in Canada are developing a special laser imaging technology, which could identify cancerous tissue instantly, aiding surgeons during brain operations.

Now doctors rely on brain scans done before the surgery – there is not real time data, except the visuals that doctors can see. Tissue samples are also examined during the surgery, but results take up to 30 minutes to come.  Finally, tissue samples are sent to labs post-op to see whether a sufficient portion of the tumour was removed. Lab results are typically very precise, but come after surgery, which limits their usefulness. Cancer tissue that is left after surgery is linked to poor survival rates and other negative clinical outcomes.

Laser technology that scientists want to apply is very precise and works instantaneously. Photoacoustic Remote Sensing (PARS) imaging system could tell in surgery where the tumour ends and healthy tissue begins. This would allow removing more of the tumour and preserving more of the healthy brain tissue. In essence, PARS would improve the effectiveness of brain cancer surgeries and allow for better clinical outcomes. Haji Reza, director of the PhotoMedicine Labs at Waterloo, said: “That opens up an extremely promising path towards our ultimate goal – a non-contact, surgical microscope that in real-time can guide doctors towards very safe, maximal resection with no waiting”.

PARS is not limited to brain cancer – it can be applied to  breast, gastroenterological, skin and other kinds of cancer. Scientists are hoping to have this technology ready within three to five years. This would allow for very precise brain operations and hopefully will save lives.

Technology is moving forward. Although PARS is not going to be ready for clinical use within 3-5 years, at that time it will be one of those things that is likely to change statistical outcomes of brain cancer surgeries.


Source: University of Waterloo