An MRI-guided laser system that allows surgeons to perform brain surgery on tumors and epileptic lesions in the brain is expected to become widely available to patients in need now that the technology has been acquired from Visualase Inc. by the global medical device company Medtronic, Inc., says a biomedical engineering professor from Texas A&M University who co-founded the company responsible for the technology.
The technology, says Gerard Coté, professor in the university’s Department of Biomedical Engineering and director of the Center for Remote Healthcare Technology, enables surgeons to pinpoint and destroy brain tumors and lesions with extreme precision and is a much less-invasive alternative to conventional surgery.
The advantage of this approach over other approaches for brain surgery, Coté explains, is that it can be performed while the patient is awake, requires no radiation and no skull flap (the large opening in traditional craniotomies), and is often performed in otherwise inoperable areas of the brain.
Traditional brain surgery, he explains, is usually a daylong operation that involves removing part of the skull, cutting through healthy brain matter and physically removing the problematic tissue. That procedure, he adds, can be followed by a weeklong hospital stay and prolonged recovery period.
The technology developed by former Texas A&M students Ashok Gowda and the late Roger McNichols, conversely, can be completed in about four hours, and most patients can return home the following day, Coté says.
Known as “Visualase,” the technology is already used in more than 45 hospitals, nationwide, including 15 pediatric hospitals. Before the surgical procedure, computer software first helps identify the targeted tissue so that it may be treated and the surrounding healthy tissue can be avoided, Coté explains. During the procedure, a small entry is made in the skull that allows a laser applicator (about the size of a pencil lead) to be inserted into the tissue. The patient is placed in the MRI, and a physician receives and reviews images to verify proper positioning of the laser applicator in the skull. The clinician then uses a laser to heat and destroy the problematic tissue while imaging the tissue being damaged in real time to ensure destruction of the problematic tissue and to avoid damaging healthy tissue. The laser applicator is then removed, and the scalp is closed with one stitch, Coté notes.