The doctors at Barnes Jewish Hospital have a new toy to play with and use to kill brain tumors: the Monteris Medical AutoLITT System. It's not an especially catchy name, but it sure does look cool: a thin metal wand with a glowing red laser at the tip. And doctors are finding it's a handy tool for getting rid of brain tumors in hard-to-reach places which would previously have been inoperable or resistant to chemotherapy.
"It provides us with a new way of accessing the brain in a minimally-invasive fashion," says Dr. Eric Leuthardt, "and killing a tumor where it is without having to do a large surgery and a large opening into the brain to get to certain areas." Leuthardt is one of the doctors who has been using the new system.
Surgery with the AutoLITT System begins with the doctors boring a hole into the patient's skull that's about the diameter of a pencil. Using an MRI scanner as a guide, the doctors insert the laser wand into the brain, right into the center of the tumor. The laser is so precise that it's able to burn away the cancer cells without hurting healthy tissue, and the surgeons can watch the tumor's disappearance on the MRI monitor.
Because the surgery is less-invasive, recovery time is shorter, taking days instead of weeks.
Barnes is one of the first hospitals in the country that gets to play with this technology.
The AutoLITT System doesn't work on all tumors. It's ineffective, for example, on vascular tumors, or tumors that are formed from blood vessels. But it's able to eliminate most gliomas (tumors from glial cells, the non-neurons that make up the nervous system) and metastasized tumors (cancer that originated somewhere else and spread).
To see the AutoLITT System at work, check out this video produced by Barnes: