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Laser imaging tool may help brain tumor surgery accuracy

The technology would allow surgeons to more easily tell the difference between cancerous and non-cancerous cells during surgery.

By
Stephen Feller
Images collected using an SRS microscope show that normal brain contains sparse cells with bundles of nerve fibers, called axons, shown on the left, but brain tumor tissue is full of cells in a disordered pattern, on the right. During surgery, it is difficult for doctors to be able to see these differences without some type of imaging assistance. Photo by University of Michigan Health System
Images collected using an SRS microscope show that normal brain contains sparse cells with bundles of nerve fibers, called axons, shown on the left, but brain tumor tissue is full of cells in a disordered pattern, on the right. During surgery, it is difficult for doctors to be able to see these differences without some type of imaging assistance. Photo by University of Michigan Health System

ANN ARBOR, Mich., Oct. 15 (UPI) -- During surgery to remove brain tumors, doctors often have to use their best guess as to where a tumor ends and normal brain tissue begins.

Researchers at the University of Michigan are developing laser imaging technology using a stimulated Raman scattering, or SRS, microscope that could help doctors better see what they are doing during surgery.

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The type of imaging researchers have been developing with SRS microscopy is available using other technology, however it can take 30 minutes or more for tissue samples to be prepared and examined by an expert. With the new method, the goal is for all members of a medical team to have the ability to make determinations immediately on the next steps during surgery.

"It allows the surgical decision-making process to become data driven instead of relying on the surgeon's best guess," said Dr. Daniel Orringer, a neurosurgeon in the pathology department at the University of Michigan Medical School, said in a press release. "We're able to visualize tumor that otherwise would be invisible to the surgeon in the operating room."

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As part of the study to show the efficacy of the technology as it stands now, researchers used more than 1,400 images of children and adults with glioblastoma.

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The SRS technology, using colors to differentiate between brain cortex, tumor and white matter, allowed researchers to distinguish with near-perfect accuracy the difference between tumor and non-tumor cells in the brain, they reported.

"This technology has the potential to resolve a long-standing issue in cancer surgery, which is the need for faster and more effective methods to assess whether a tumor has been fully removed," said Dr. Richard Conroy, director of the Division of Applied Science and Technology at the National Institute of Biomedical Imaging and Bioengineering.

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The study is published in Science Translational Medicine.

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