A new brain imaging tool may, in a matter of seconds, classify tumors and identify their boundaries.

Dr. Harvey Cushing, regarded as the founder of modern neurosurgery, was appointed Surgeon-in-Chief at Brigham and Women’s Hospital (then Peter Bent Brigham Hospital) in 1911. He is recognized for developing new surgical techniques that improved the care and survival of brain tumor patients. Since Dr. Cushing’s time, Brigham and Women’s Hospital (BWH) physicians have continued to advance new treatments for brain tumor patients. The latest is a new test that promises to improve the precision of brain tumor removal.

“Tumor tissue within the brain often closely resembles normal brain tissue and may have indistinct boundaries, so it is difficult to determine where tumors end and brain tissue begins,” says Dr. Alexandra Golby, Director of Image-Guided Neurosurgery in the Department of Neurosurgery at BWH, and Clinical Co-Director of BWH’s Advanced Multi-Modality Image Guided Operating (AMIGO) suite.

When removing brain tumors, surgeons want to preserve as much normal brain tissue as possible in their patients, especially when tumors are located in areas of the brain that control important functions like movement, speaking, or vision. However, determining the border between normal brain tissue and areas of brain tumor can often be difficult and uncertain.

Now, a new imaging tool may, in a matter of seconds, classify tumors and identify their boundaries. The tool has successfully identified cancer type, severity, and tumor boundaries in five patients with brain tumors, according to a new study conducted by researchers from BWH’s departments of Neurosurgery, Radiology, and Pathology, and Purdue University.

Researchers sprayed brain tissue samples from five patients with a solution known as a charged solvent.  The solvent allowed researchers to gather information about the molecular makeup of the tissue sample. The samples also produced a color-coded image when analyzed by an instrument called a mass spectrometer, providing additional information about tumor type and concentration.

“Such extensive and detailed information about brain tissue that could lead to more precise tumor removal was previously unavailable to surgeons. In addition, having access to a detailed diagnosis on the day of surgery could help an oncologist more efficiently design the course of post-surgery therapy,” says Dr.Nathalie Agar, Director of the Surgical Molecular Imaging Laboratory in BWH’s Departments of Neurosurgery and Radiology and co-lead study author.

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– MMQ, Jamie R


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