Sunday, August 31, 2008

Brain zapping

In the latter half of the 19th century, the Salpêtrière hospital in Paris earned renown through the work of Jean-Martin Charcot, a neurologist who became a precursor in the use of medical hypnosis. His most famous disciple was a certain Sigmund Freud. To casual passersby, the Salpêtrière remains a rather spooky site, which evokes the mental tribulations of the Rilkean dreamworld hero Malte Laurids Brigge. But the ancient hospital has become, today, a state-of-the-art medical laboratory in the neurosurgical domain.

Professor Alexandre Carpentier has just announced the development at the Salpêtrière of a marvelous surgical technique for the removal of a brain tumor by means of a laser beam.

First, the exact location of the tumor is ascertained by means of MRI (magnetic resonance imaging). Then a tiny hole, 3 mm in diameter, is drilled in the skull of the patient, under local anesthesia. Finally, an optical fiber with a laser tip is inserted into the hole and guided towards the tumor, which is zapped in a matter of seconds. The laser in question is the outcome a joint research and development between the Salpêtrière laboratory and a cancer clinic in Houston. During the rapid operation, the patient remains fully awake.

Some fifteen patients have been treated successfully up until now. Professor Carpentier indicated that his laboratory needs funding of two million euros in order to generalize their technique.

1 comment:

catherine todd said...

Fascinating! Scary, but fascinating. Can hardly believe how far laser technology has come. Curing brain tumers under local anesthetic? Incredible. Beam me up, Scotty!