Handheld tool images tumor cells during neurosurgery

Researchers from the Barrow Neurological Institute at St. Joseph’s Hospital and Medical Center in Phoenix, Ariz., have created and tested a pen-sized imaging instrument to aid neurosurgeons in the visualization of individual tumor cells during ongoing brain operations, according to results of a study published in the April issue of Neurosurgical Focus.

The device, known as a confocal laser endomicroscope, is able to image tumor cells using unique fluorescent characteristics on an LCD screen as the surgeon moves the instrument across the surface of the patient’s brain.

"For the first time we have an instrument that can visualize the cells of the tumor as we are operating on the brain. We can immediately detect a region that harbors tumor, and see the border of the brain tumor,” said study co-author Mark Preul, MD, in a press release. “This is especially beneficial for malignant tumors where the amount of tumor removed may play a huge part in the survival time of the patient. This is personalized medicine on the surgical front with a new imaging tool in the surgeon's hand."

While the aim of the research is to eventually gain FDA approval and improve brain tumor tissue surgery by allowing for more patient-specific tissue removal and management, the next phase of the researchers’ work will consist of refining the endomicroscope and developing more advanced tumor cell stains and probes.