Physicians at Upstate Golisano Children’s Hospital, Syracuse, N.Y., are the first in the world to use minimally invasive MRI-guided laser technology in a multi-stage approach to treat a rare, sometimes life-threatening genetic disease, the hospital says.

The condition is called tuberous sclerosis, which causes non-cancerous tumors, called tubers, to grow in the brain leading to a host of symptoms. Doctors at Upstate also have used the technology to successfully treat epilepsy and other brain-related disorders.

Known as MRI-guided thermal laser ablation, the treatment enables doctors to insert a small laser into the brain to eradicate the tumor or the epilepsy focus using a burst of heat.

"This new surgical approach is safer for patients and significantly reduces complications and recovery time," the hospital said in a prepared statement. "Doctors no longer have to perform a craniotomy or use radiation therapy, which can damage surrounding tissue, and lead to extensive rehabilitation and lengthy hospital stay."

Before the procedure, patients undergo magnetic resonance imaging of the brain so doctors can see the size and location of the tumors or lesions. Using specialized software, physicians identify the tissue to be targeted and create a surgical plan to eradicate the diseased tissue while avoiding healthy surrounding tissue.

On the day of surgery, physicians place a special frame on the child’s head that enables doctors to make precise calculations of where to insert the lasers. A 3.2-millimeter hole is made in the patient’s skull in which laser applicators are secured. Once the laser applicator is inserted, the patient is transferred to the MRI unit, which allows the physicians to carefully monitor the treatment using special software. A bright orange glow shows on the computer terminal when the laser light destroys the tumor or target area.

Once the treatment is over and the laser applicator removed, doctors need only a small bandage and a single stitch to close the small incision where the laser application was inserted.

“With this new minimally invasive option, we are talking about bringing the patient to the hospital for a one-day procedure, with little disruption to the patient or the patient’s family,” Zulma Tovar-Spinoza, M.D., director of pediatric neurosurgery at Upstate Golisano Children’s Hospital, said. “Results from the procedure are also immediate as noticed by improvement of symptoms among patients and families.”

 

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