Researchers at Washington University have developed a laser beam that can cook brain tumours.

The feat could help save the lives of people with, until now, inoperable brain tumours, and could soon be extended to destroy other tumours in other parts of the body without resorting to surgery.

“This tool gives us a treatment for patients with tumours that were previously deemed inoperable. It offers hope to certain patients who had few or no options before,” Discovery News quoted Eric Leuthardt, a doctor at Washington University, as saying.

The patient the Missouri doctors operated on had a recurrent and life threatening brain tumour.

Because of the prior surgeries, and the location of the tumour deep inside the brain, normal surgery was not an option. Since the surgeons couldn’t cut the tumour out, they decided to cook it to death.

Last month the Washington University surgeons drilled a small burr hole, about the diameter of a pencil, into the patient’s skull.

Using the MRI machine to guide them, the surgeons carefully directed the narrow and flexible laser probe through the brain and into the tumour.

The laser emerges from the probe at a 90 degree angle, so once it is in the correct position all that the doctor had to do was heat the golf ball-sized tumour, essentially cooking it to death at 140 degrees F.

While the tumour cooked, the doctors used the MRI machine to make sure the temperature of the surrounding cells was low enough so the healthy cells survived.

“The patient did pretty well. He went home three days later, instead of spending one to two weeks in the ICU,” said Leuthardt.

Barnes-Jewish Hospital, where the operation took place, is the third hospital in the country to zap brain tumours with lasers. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration approved lasers for neurosurgery in May 2009.

This is just the latest use for laser technology, said Richard Ellenbogen, the chief of neurosurgery at the University of Washington.

Ellenbogen has used lasers to treat tumours in children.

“The beauty of this technology is that you can bend the light and use it to access areas that you otherwise couldn’t,” said Ellenbogen.

Keywords: tumoursMRI