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New Minimally Invasive Laser Therapy for Brain Tumors

Washington University neurosurgeons at Barnes-Jewish Hospital and the Siteman Cancer Center will be among the first in the country to treat brain tumor patients with a new catheter-based, minimally invasive laser system. The system allows direct application of heat treatments to tumors and other lesions in the brain, making it possible to treat previously inoperable cancers and dramatically reducing the trauma and recovery time necessary for tumor excision.

The Auto-LITT® (laser interstitial thermal therapy) system combines an intraoperative MRI unit with a platform that allows for insertion and movement of a fiber-optic catheter that carries the laser beam to the tumor.

Surgery begins with an incision in the scalp. Next, physicians drill a small hole in the skull, insert the catheter and use MRI to guide the tip of the catheter to the lesion. Then they can apply heat to the lesion with the laser, using a mirror on the end of the catheter to direct the beam. The MRI unit lets surgeons monitor the effects of treatments as they are applied, which allows them to burn precisely to the edge of the tumor without crossing over into healthy tissue.

“This is a game changer in terms of the way it significantly expands our ability to reach deep into the brain and treat previously inoperable tumors without inflicting harm on other vital brain structures,” says Eric Leuthardt, MD, assistant professor of neurological surgery, of neurobiology and of biomedical engineering, and director of the Center for the Integration of Neuroscience and Technology. “It will also make it possible to operate on tumors without the traumas of a large skull opening and resection of portions of the brain.”

Leuthardt hopes that patients treated with the new laser system may be able to go home from the hospital in as little as a few days.
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