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Lasers introduce a new level of accuracy to tumor recognition

For patients like Reuben Hill, the term “laser-focused” has just taken on an entirely new meaning. A doctoral student in physics, Hill is well acquainted with the science behind lasers, but following a groundbreaking surgery, he now has a new appreciation for them.

At 22 years old, Hill found himself in surgery for the removal of a golf ball-sized tumor in his brain, a tumor that would have been immensely challenging to remove were it not for the pioneering use of lasers. A story in Proto Magazine, published by Massachusetts General Hospital, explains how surgeon Babar Vaqas, BM, BCh, based at Imperial College in the U.K., mapped the Hill's tumor using a handheld laser:

As he moved the probe around, it didn’t cut tissue, but delivered second-by-second information about the light reflecting off of the brain to a spectroscope, a device that translated the distinctive 'signatures' produced by malignant and healthy tissue, respectively, on a monitor, which helped guide Vaqas’s surgical forceps.

Hill fared well in that news-making 2015 surgery. But his surgery was just one example of the growing use of lasers in medicine, the article states. In particular, they are increasingly allowing surgeons to both minimize the amount of healthy tissue they need to remove and to ensure they remove all cancerous cells. Using traditional methods, small cell bunches can break off from a tumor, escaping the notice of a surgeon's visual inspection or touch, Matthew Bogyo, PhD, a Stanford professor of microbiology and immunology and of pathology, told Proto.

There are numerous other applications of new light-based tools, including the real-time observation of cancerous tissue during surgery, said Eben Rosenthal, MD, a professor of otolaryngology-head and neck surgery and of radiology. Within ten years, light-guided tumor removal will be commonplace, he predicts: "This area is ready to explode."

Previously: Guided missile for killing cancer, Stanford Medicine X leads precision medicine workshop at the White House and New Stanford-developed tool allows easier study of blood cancers
Photo by Laura Dahl

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