Planet-Exploring Tech Lands in the Operating Room

Brain cancer imaging uses NASA ultraviolet camera

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Joseph V. Madia, MD

(RxWiki News) It’s not brain surgery without imaging devices that help surgeons tell the difference between tumor and healthy tissue. These are things the naked eye can’t detect. Even today’s best magnifiers miss these incredibly intricate details.

An ultraviolet camera that may “bring planet-exploring technology into the operating room” is being tested at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center and the Maxine Dunitz Neurosurgical Institute there.

The camera, on loan from NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, uses ultraviolet technology that's used to study planets and distant galaxies.

It may help neurosurgeons better distinguish between brain tumor tissue and healthy tissue.

"Ask questions about techniques used in your surgery."

“It’s impossible to predict where the next big breakthrough in medical technology will come from. In this case, we’re looking at planet-exploring technology to see if it can give us unprecedented detail of the brain’s landscape,” Keith Black, MD, chairman of neurology at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center, told dailyRx News.

“This could help solve one of the biggest challenges facing neurosurgeons in the operating room: visualizing the border between cancer cells and normal brain cells,” said Dr. Black, who is director of the Maxine Dunitz Neurosurgical Institute and the Johnnie L. Cochran, Jr. Brain Tumor Center and the Ruth and Lawrence Harvey Chair in Neuroscience.

A pilot study is testing the camera on gliomas, aggressive and deadly brain tumors that have uneven borders and invade nearby tissue.

Dr. Black explained, “To reduce the risk of cancer recurrence, we have to remove as many cancer cells as possible, but to provide the best outcomes for our patients, it’s equally important to spare healthy tissue.”

The camera may be able to detect the changes beneath the surface of the tissue. Brain tumor cells are known to contain a certain chemical that healthy cells don’t have. This is called nicotinamide adenine dinucleotide hydrogenase or NADH.

NADH emits ultraviolet light that the camera could detect in order to create a high-resolution image to help guide neurosurgeons.

“The ultraviolet imaging technique may provide a ‘metabolic map’ of tumors that could help us differentiate them from normal surrounding brain tissue, providing useful, real-time, intraoperative information,” said Ray Chu, MD, a neurosurgeon leading the study with co-principal investigator Babak Kateb, MD, research scientist at Cedars-Sinai’s Maxine Dunitz Neurosurgical Institute and chairman of the board of the Society for Brain Mapping and Therapeutics.

“If the ultraviolet camera proves capable of producing a real-time, high-resolution image of tumors, it would be a great example of the way creativity and innovation play a role in science,” Dr. Black told dailyRx News.

“Technology developed for one purpose may be very beneficial in a completely different field, solving old problems in an unforeseen way.”

The ultraviolet imaging study is currently under way and will include 20 patients. The trial is open to any adult who is have surgery for any brain tumor that’s within the range of the camera lens.

Reviewed by: 
Review Date: 
October 5, 2012
Last Updated:
October 7, 2012