Brain tumor removal surgery is a balancing act: Miss a piece of tumor, and a patient may suffer from shortened survival; take too much, and memories, movement or speech may be compromised. To add to the challenge, brain tumor and normal tissue can look identical during surgery. A new surgical mapping technology, however, could be the answer.
“I have dedicated my life to perfecting the surgical resection of these tumors, and yet when you look at the amount I resect, on average, it’s just 70 to 80 percent of the tumor,” says neurosurgeon Alfredo Quinones-Hinojosa.
In 2011, Quinones-Hinojosa received an email from M.D./Ph.D. student Carmen Kut. She was working on optical coherence tomography (OCT), which functions like ultrasound but uses light instead of sound waves. Kut was wondering if Quinones-Hinojosa could help her test OCT to tell the difference between cancer and healthy tissue.
Quinones-Hinojosa’s lab started forwarding samples from patients and animals to Kut and her advisor, physicist and biomedical engineer Xingde Li, a pioneer of OCT technologies.
Kut and Li began imaging the samples, looking for differences in the way light bounced back between brain tumor and other tissue. Li brainstormed with Kut and provided guidance on how to analyze the data and turn the numbers generated by OCT into an innovation for the operating room.
In a few years, they developed a novel algorithm that analyzes the OCT image in real time and provides an intuitive color map that shows cancer in red, noncancerous matter in green and areas where cancer is beginning to infiltrate in yellow.
In November 2015, Kut, Li and Quinones-Hinojosa launched the first clinical study testing the feasibility of the technology in the operating room. The team is also working with several entities to develop a commercial product.