Gliomas are tumours of the glial cells, which are the supporting cells of the nervous system. They are detected by scans such as MRIs and are classified according to their invasiveness or grade. Treatment for fast growing (high grade) gliomas usually involves surgery. What makes these tumours particularly formidable is the fact that some tumour cells prevail even after surgery and can cause tumour recurrence and death. There are no existing detection techniques that help surgeons identify these potentially life-threatening invasive cells during surgery.
A study published in Science Translational Medicine, carried out by researchers at McGill University, Polytechnique Montreal and the Montreal Neurological Institute and Hospital (The Neuro), reports the development of a new device that makes use of Raman spectroscopy to help detect malignant cells in patients during surgery. The hand-held device uses the inelastic scattering of light to give molecular fingerprints of cells, which helps in differentiating normal cells from cancerous cells.
“The emitted light provides a spectroscopic signal that can be interpreted to provide specific information about the molecular makeup of the interrogated tissue,” said Dr. Frederic Leblond of Polytechnique Montreal and co-author of the study, in a press release.
This technique was tested on grade 2-4 glioma patients during brain surgery and successfully helped in the identification of glioma cells with an accuracy of 92%. “We showed that the probe is equally capable of detecting invasive cancer cells from all grades of invasive gliomas. Surgically minimizing the number of cancer cells improves patient outcomes,” said Dr. Kevin Petrecca, Chief of Neurosurgery and brain cancer researcher at The Neuro, and co-author of the study.
The probe is small and portable, and also eliminates the need for biopsies during surgery. On the flip side, it offers only a restricted field of view to the surgeon.
The team is now working towards getting approval for conducting clinical trials for patients diagnosed with glioblastoma, with the aim of improving patient survival.
The original publication can be accessed here.
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