The Institute for Micro-electronics and Components (IMEC) in Leuven has developed a new technology to detect slow growing brain tumours. Scientists have designed a hyperspectral camera that is integrated in a surgical microscope, that enables them to distinguish healthy cells from cancerous cells much more accurately.
Low-grade gliomas –slow growing brain tumours- are most frequently found in young, otherwise healthy individuals. Though usually benign in nature, low-grade gliomas do grow up to 5 millimetres per year. On top of this, they can over time develop into malignancies. For these reasons, surgical removal of the glioma is considered to be the preferred treatment strategy, despite the risks involved.
It is of paramount importance to remove all cancerous cells, while sparing healthy brain cells as much as possible. Distinguishing between the two is therefore equally important. A hyperspectral camera is able to break an individual pixel up into dozens or even hundreds of spectral bands. This ability is very useful in identifying all kinds of tissue in detail.
So far, the new technology has not been used in an actual brain surgery, but its efficacy has been tested in a clinical trial involving 6 low-grade glioma patients in Leuven’s university hospital. According to IMEC scientific project manager Siri Luthman, the first findings are very promising. “The camera shows great potential. If following clinical tests show equally positive results, then in the future brain surgeons will be able to detect subtle changes in brain tumours that are impossible to see with the naked eye.”