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Saturday, March 02, 2024

Real-time interface for brain scans allows direct feedback during surgeries

   Conventionally, patients requiring neurosurgery will undergo a few protocols. After visiting a doctor with a specific brain-related problem, the doctor will send the patient to a magnetic resonance (MR) scanner, which will allow doctors to project the specific location of the brain that needs to be operated on.

   The problem with this method is the MR scans only act as a diagnostic tool. In actuality, opening the brain during surgery causes tissue shifts and increases the pressure in the brain. Hence, the initial scans may not be accurate especially since a difference in 1mm of a targeted site can cause serious repercussions to brain functionalities.

   However, due to 20 years of research and development, neurosurgeons are now able to operate on patients using real-time interface thanks to Professor of Biomedical Engineering at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, Dr. Walter Block, and his team; notably Dr. Ned Kalin, Dr. Azam Ahmed, Dr. Andrew Alexander and Ethan Brodsky.

   “The software that we have developed allows neurosurgeons to move away from retrospective imaging to real-time imaging,”said Block. Therefore, direct feedback can be obtained during operations.

   Block and his team have established a company called InseRT MRI to develop the software. This software employs a similar strategy to the one that application developers use in smartphones whereby they do not require a holistic operational understanding of phones and simply utilize certain features such as maps, microphone and camera.

   In collaboration with HeartVista, InseRT MRI is able to develop interactive imaging therapy by operating on existing protocol in neurosurgery.“The software adheres to the system that doctors are already familiar with. Hence, doctors are not required to learn a new set of conventions,” Block said.

   When asked if such software may possibly be applicable to other forms of surgery, Block explained the fundamentals of guided therapy.

   “Researchers are looking at the level of prevalence of any particular methodology in guided therapy,” Block says. MR scans enable more access to patients as the top of the brain minimizes casualties with respect to blood vessels. For example, the heart is a complex organ that is breathing and pumping blood. Hence, surgeries pertaining to this organ are more intricate.

   “Rather than attempting to resolve big problems, it is best if we start with applications that can solve simpler ones,” Block said.

   However, seeing as how MRIs are effective in diagnosing acute diseases, this technology is hoped to be able to identify degenerative diseases, such as Alzheimer's and Parkinson's, which indeed are complex diseases on their own.

   “The way a technology develops usually begins at a research university because it has access to patients,” said Block. “The moment the technology is proven successful, other hospitals will be able to use it.”

   As for the software, it is two years away from commercialization because it still needs to follow certain regulations set by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

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   Block hopes students are able to comprehend the whole technological development process that advances from a typical research lab setting to an established company. The gap between these two fields is inevitably wide and Block hopes students will utilize their experience on campus to gain more exposure to the two worlds.

   “Students in the sciences should take the opportunities available through internships and co-ops to learn about numerous companies in hope of understanding how everything is carried out,” Block said.

   UW-Madison has indeed provided numerous prospects for students to grow and learn while on campus which can be utilized to enrich their understanding of these relationships and become more multifaceted individuals.

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