The Future of Brain Health: Precise and Virtual Biopsies

Posted by mddiadmin on January 1, 2010

Within a fraction of a second, doctors may be able to see a small part of the brain and conduct a virtual biopsy using a new optical tool. The technology, which can be integrated into surgical tools, generates high-resolution images that help identify benign or malignant tissue. It would enable surgeons to protect tissue surfaces and maintain a constant distance from critical, healthy areas.

Professor Jin Kang (right) and doctoral student Kang Zhang work on the optical tool. Photos courtesy of WILL KIRK/ HOMEWOODPHOTO.JHU.EDU
“The whole idea of our research is to develop a smart tool that allows surgeons to perform more delicate surgeries precisely and prevent them from making mistakes,” says Jin Kang, professor at Johns Hopkins University (Baltimore). “There’s a limit to how precisely you can manipulate and perform surgical procedures using the hand.” Kang is also the chair of the department of electrical and computer engineering at the university’s Whiting School of Engineering.

The device has a fiber optic sensor that uses common-path optical coherence tomography. The process involves directing a low-power laser light at an area of interest. Once the light scatters, it is collected and used to generate a small but high-resolution 3-D image that provides depth information about tissue. The information picked up by the sensor is transmitted to the imaging modality, processed by a computer, and displayed on a screen for the surgeon. Researchers eventually want to combine the simple imaging and sensing modality with functional imaging, which will show the details of the tissue’s cellular structure. Doctors will also be able to differentiate between tumors, blood vessels, and nerves.

The device uses an ultrathin optical fiber to direct low-powered laser light onto the area that must be examined.
To reduce the learning curve for surgeons, part of Kang’s goal is to develop a device that doesn’t stray from current tool designs but does integrate the extra sensing capability. The optical sensor has several potential applications, including integration with a dissector, scalp, or hypodermic needle.

To make a virtual biopsy possible, researchers are trying to improve the resolution of the system to close to 1 µm while also improving signal and reducing noise. Another enhancement includes incorporating functional imaging that allows surgeons to see the optical and spectroscopic properties of tissue. Kang would also like to provide surgeons with a complete 3-D image in a fraction of a second.

Researchers from the university’s school of engineering and school of medicine are collaborating with the National Science Foundation Engineering Research Center for Computer-Integrated Surgical Systems and Technology. Their work has been funded by a two-year grant from the Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, which is part of the National Institutes of Health. The $450,000 in funds will help the researchers start animal and human cadaver testing. According to Kang, the device could cost less than $10,000.

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