First-of-its-kind research being done at the Innovation Institute at Henry Ford Hospital, Detroit, MI, shows promise for developing a method of clearly identifying cancerous tissue during surgery on glioblastoma multiforme (GBM), a tumor that attacks tissue around nerve cells in the brain.

GBM poses a particular problem for the surgeon. While some tumors have clearly defined margins, that differentiate it from normal brain tissue, GBM margins are diffuse, leaving the neurosurgeon uncertain about removing the entire malignancy.

The research team is developing an accurate, efficient, and inexpensive tool to distinguish normal brain tissue from both GBM and necrotic tissue rapidly, in real time, in the operating room.

They chose Raman spectroscopy, which measures scattered light to provide a wavelength “signature” for the material being studied. Advances in processing speed, and size compression to fit on an intraoperative probe lend themselves well to a small, portable hand-held device, potentially yielding immediate results in real-time. When developed, it would be the first of its kind for this brain tumor application, they say.

Using 40 frozen sections of GBM-riddled brain tissue, the Henry Ford team aimed to develop a database of normal brain matter, GBM, and necrotic tissue as identified by Raman spectroscopy, as well as a statistical analysis algorithm for providing rapid diagnosis of tumor margins during brain surgery.

After creating and testing their method, the researchers were able to distinguish the three types of tissue with up to 99.5 percent accuracy. Future studies, they say, will focus on collecting and identifying Raman “signatures” from tissue with freeze artifact. More research will also be directed at tissue containing the diffused margins of GBM infiltration.