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Revolutionary probe enables surgeons to detect all invasive brain cancer cells during surgery.

Brain cancer patients may live longer thanks to a new cancer-detection method developed by researchers at the Montreal Neurological Institute, McGill University and the Polytechnique Montréal. The collaborative team has created a powerful new intraoperative probe for detecting cancer cells. The hand-held Raman spectroscopy probe enables surgeons, for the first time, to accurately detect virtually all invasive brain cancer cells in real time during surgery. The probe is superior to existing technology and could set a new standard for successful brain cancer surgery.

Often it is impossible to visually distinguish cancer from normal brain, so invasive brain cancer cells frequently remain after surgery, leading to cancer recurrence and a worse prognosis.  Surgically minimizing the number of cancer cells improves patient outcomes.  The study is published in Science Translational Medicine.

The team explain that the probe technique uses laser technology to measure light scattered from molecules.  The emitted light provides a spectroscopic signal that can be interpreted to provide specific information about the molecular makeup of the interrogated tissue.  The Raman spectroscopy probe has a greater than 92% accuracy in identifying cancer cells that have invaded into normal brain.

The Raman probe was tested on patients with grade 2, 3 and 4 gliomas, which are highly invasive brain cancers.  The current study showed that the probe is equally capable of detecting invasive cancer cells from all grades of invasive gliomas.  There is strong evidence that the extent of tumour removal affects prognosis for all grades of invasive gliomas.

In order to show that the use of this system improves patient outcomes, a clinical trial at the Montreal Neurological Institute will be launched for patients with newly diagnosed and recurrent glioblastoma. If positive, this portable intraoperative Raman Spectroscopy probe will improve brain cancer surgeries and in turn extend survival times for brain cancer patients.

Source:  Montreal Neurological Institute and Hospital 

The probe allows surgeons to see very small densities of cancer cells in the brain during surgery.  Credit:  Science Translational Medicine; Petrecca K, Leblond F et al.
The probe allows surgeons to see very small densities of cancer cells in the brain during surgery. Credit: Science Translational Medicine; Petrecca K, Leblond F et al.

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