Maggots, viruses and lasers: some innovations for brain tumours

Brain tumours are among the most distressing of cancers, partly because of they arise from the most important body organ. Current treatment revolves around debulking surgery and palliative chemotherapy and radiotherapy. There are developments every day to improve the outcome of this awful cancer, beyond the Below are 5 things that may, or may not, lead to better brain tumour care

1. MAGGOT-LIKE ROBOTS

"Hermetiaillucens" by MD-Terraristik – Laut [1] ist Dennis Kress Mitinhaber des Unternehmens - www.MD-Terraristik.de. Licensed under Public Domain via Commons.
Hermetiaillucens” by MD-Terraristik – Laut [1] ist Dennis Kress Mitinhaber des Unternehmens – http://www.MD-Terraristik.de. Licensed under Public Domain via Commons.

I came across this interesting development in news headlines titled Maggot-Like Robot Eats Brain Tumors and Robot Maggots Feed On Brain Tumors. Unlike many sensational headlines, there appears to be some truth behind these ones. The National Institute of Biomedical Imaging and Bioengineering for example  suggests that, in future, robots may be used to target hard-to-reach brain tumours. The leading neurosurgeon in this endeavour is J Marc Simard of the University of Maryland. Maggot Bots indeed!

2. POLIOVIRUS

By Fixi at the German language Wikipedia, CC BY-SA 3.0, Link
By Fixi at the German language Wikipedia, CC BY-SA 3.0, Link

The dreaded poliovirus, after all the years of trying to eradicate it, seems to have some benefit after all. The virus may come in handy in the fight against the worst type of brain tumour, glioblastoma multiforme. Matthias Gromeier is leading the research in this field. It however has a long way to go, and this analysis in Forbes puts the progress in perspective.

3. GENETIC PROFILING OF TUMOURS

"DNA methylation" by Christoph Bock (Max Planck Institute for Informatics) - Own work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Commons.
DNA methylation” by Christoph Bock (Max Planck Institute for Informatics)Own work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Commons.

The holy grail in tumour therapy is to target the treatment at the genetic level. This innovative approach to map the genetic picture of tumours is rather too technical for this blog, but you may explore the topic if you feel bold enough, by reading this article from the New England Journal of Medicine titled Glioma Groups Based on 1p/19q, IDH, and TERT Promoter Mutations in Tumors. Or perhaps the gentler read from Biotech in Asia titled Tailor-made treatment for brain tumor through genetic profiling.

4. LASER TUMOUR IDENTIFICATION

1.2W Class 4 Very High Power Blue Laser, Dark Background. Andrew "FastLizard4" Adams on Flikr. https://www.flickr.com/photos/fastlizard4/5660747232
1.2W Class 4 Very High Power Blue Laser, Dark Background. Andrew “FastLizard4” Adams on Flikr. https://www.flickr.com/photos/fastlizard4/5660747232

As you may imagine, it is a challenge for the neurosurgeon to tell cancer cells apart from normal tumour cells during surgery. This therefore often leads to incomplete removal of the cancerous cells. The development of a laser probe that could help distinguish normal from abnormal cells is therefore welcome. The laser distinguishes normal from abnormal cells by the way they reflect light back to it. You may learn more about this in the BBC titled Laser detects brain tumour cells during surgery.

5. THE INTELLIGENT KNIFE (iKNIFE)

https://www.youtube.com/embed/MGNjtfizYTI” target=”_blank”>

The BBC link above is actually better than ‘good enough’ because it also makes reference to another innovation, the iknife or intelligent knife. This is ‘an electro-surgical scalpel that produces smoke as it cuts through tissue‘. The tissue is then quickly analysed to tell what type of tumour the surgeon is facing. The video clip above says it all.

6. HYPERTHERMIA

Red Hot Coals Texture 2. Heath Alseike on Flikr. https://www.flickr.com/photos/99624358@N00/21314199361
Red Hot Coals Texture 2. Heath Alseike on Flikr. https://www.flickr.com/photos/99624358@N00/21314199361

Finally, this technique uses high temperatures to treat brain tumours. It is described as an ‘MRI-guided high-intensity laser probe that “cooks” cancer cells deep within the brain’. That says it all!

B0010383 Highly invasive human paediatric brain tumour derived cells. Wellcome Images on Flikr. https://www.flickr.com/photos/wellcomeimages/25821182694
B0010383 Highly invasive human paediatric brain tumour derived cells. Wellcome Images on Flikr. https://www.flickr.com/photos/wellcomeimages/25821182694

There is hope yet in the fight against one of natures worst cancers.

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