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System Lets Surgeons Image the Brain While they Operate On It

Tue, 08/27/2013 - 12:00am
Massachusetts Institute of Technology

Operating theater: Neurosurgeons look at a live view of brain tissue and adjust the trajectory of their surgical tool.

A new system for visualizing the brain during surgery is helping neurosurgeons more accurately diagnose and treat patients and is even allowing them to perform some procedures that until now have been extremely difficult or even impossible.

Neurosurgeons can use the imaging technology during surgeries that require small objects—biopsy needles, implants, or tubes to deliver drugs—to be placed at precise locations in the brain. The system provides live magnetic resonance images (MRI) that allow surgeons to monitor their progress during the operation.  

Typically, neurosurgeons use an MRI before a surgery to plan the trajectory of the operation, based on the brain’s position relative to a guidance frame that’s screwed onto the patient’s skull, says Robert Gross, a neurosurgeon at Emory University. But the brain can shift before the actual surgery takes place, he says, rendering that MRI inaccurate. To check on what’s happening inside a patient’s skull, doctors have to stop the surgery and perhaps even move the patient out of the operating room.

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