Shedding Light On A Brain Biopsy
May 2, 2014

Shedding Light On A Brain Biopsy

In terms of cancer treatment, one of – if not the – most important steps is to correctly diagnose what form of cancer a patient has. This goes far beyond simply detecting if they have lung, pancreatic, breast, or whatever general form of cancer, but in identifying the specific form of cancer found in the patient. This way, the doctors have all of their information on hand to figure out what would be the best form of treatment. After all, if you do not know the problem how can you know the solution? Even so, for the past fifty years, doctors have been preforming brain biopsies in order in a near-blind state because the technology did not exist for them to do a targeted biopsy. As tumors are hidden within the brain, doctors were left to use mathematical algorithms in order to estimate where they should perform a biopsy. These algorithms could be subject to errors that doctors were unable to correct in real time, making the biopsy a great risk to patients. For doctors around the world, gaining the ability to actually see what they were doing during a biopsy would be a phenomenal achievement.

[ Watch the Video: UC San Diego Health System’s First MRI-Guided Brain Biopsy ]

Thanks to the incredible innovations of a team of neurosurgeons led by Clark C. Chen, MD, PhD, of the UC San Diego School of Medicine, this technology that would allow neurosurgeons to actually see what they are doing during a brain biopsy is now at hand. Chen’s team has figured out how to use a magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) technique called Restriction Spectrum Imaging (RSI) in order to see the parts of the brain tumor that hold different densities of cells. This allows surgeons to detect which regions of the cell are the most representative of the whole tumor, and then those areas can be targeted for biopsies so that they are able to minimize the number of biopsies they need to perform while still getting the best possible sample of the whole tumor.

In order to do such a targeted biopsy, this procedure is performed in the MRI suite while the patient is sedated using general anesthesia. Normally, the equipment needed to perform a biopsy cannot be used in the MRI, but Chen and his team have devised a special MRI-compatible system called ClearPoint. The ClearPoint system uses an integrated set of hardware, software, and other surgical equipment that will allow the surgeon to see the path of the biopsy as well as the actual site of the biopsy, all in real time. In essence, this takes the blinders off during such a delicate operation.

According to Dr. Chen, “There are many different types of brain cancer. Making an accurate diagnosis is paramount because the diagnosis dictates the subsequent course of treatment. For instance, the treatment of glioblastoma is fundamentally different than the treatment for oligodendroglioma, another type of brain tumor.” Thanks to Dr. Chen and his team’s fantastic new innovation, doctors all around the world will soon be given the tools they need to accurately and safely diagnose brain tumors in a whole new way.

Personally, this makes me feel a great deal more confident about these sorts of procedures. After all, the idea of someone poking around in my brain is scary enough, but imagining them doing that while blindfolded… no thank you.

Image Credit: Thinkstock

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