Researchers from Johannes Gutenberg University Mainz (JGU) and the Helmholtz Institute Mainz (HIM) have been developing new technology to make brain tumour surgery safer.
Removing a brain tumour is a challenging operation for surgeons. They must remove the tumour without damaging any healthy brain tissue, therefore, it is highly important that surgeons closely monitor the motor cortex, which is responsible for movement.
For example, if the nerve pathway leading from the brain to the arm is severed, the patient will no longer be able to move that arm following the operation. New diagnostics are helping to identify these nerve tracts and brain regions to make brain tumour surgery safer.
Developing quantum sensor technology
Quantum sensor technology is expected to be a key feature of improving brain tumour surgery in the future. The researchers from JGU and HIM have been working on a new quantum sensor technology project called DiaQNOS, which will refine neuro-navigation.
The five-year project started in October 2022 and is funded by the German Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF).
The basis for the DiaQNOS project was provided by BrainQSens, a collaborative project with JGU that developed highly sensitive magnetic sensors that enable improved medical diagnostics.
“In this flagship quantum sensor project, we have already been able to improve the magnetic field sensor technology to such an extent that, in principle, magnetic fields of the brain can be registered with it,” explained Dr Arne Wickenbrock from JGU and HIM, who coordinates the project.
“Now it’s a matter of taking the next steps on the way to medical application and making quantum sensor technology useful for society,” he added.
The DiaQNOS consortium has supported this application focus by including medical device manufacturer Medizintechnik GmbH in the project. neurosurgeons from Freiburg University Hospital, who will eventually use the technology, have also been involved in the project. The companies Sacher Lasertechnik GmbH and TTI GmbH have been brought in to develop the commercialisation of the technology.
The device could be used in brain tumour surgery within three years
The consortium is aiming to produce a device suitable for use in surgery within the next three years, followed by two years of further medical research. Brain tissue samples from a tissue bank in Freiburg will be examined for the first time for their medical properties.
Professor Dmitry Budker of the Mainz University research group has worked on strengthening magnetography as a core competence in recent years and will be contributing his expertise to the project.
“These quantum sensors are based on nitrogen vacancies in diamonds, i.e., nanoscale magnetic field sensors confined in the diamond. A huge number of these magnetic field sensors can exist in a thin layer of diamond. This makes it possible for us to create a magnetic image of the object that the sensor sees,” explained Wickenbrock.
Nerve communication in the human body works via electrical charges that move through the nerve pathways. Each charge generates a magnetic field creating numerous magnetic fields in the body, including in the brain.
The sensor will be able to detect and analyse these charges, telling surgeons more about the function of the respective brain areas. This will enable physicians to plan the incision path more precisely and increase brain tumour patient safety.