A new precision laser beam that heats and obliterates previously inoperable brain tumours has been used on the first British patient.
Father-of-one Pablo Casasbuenas, 36, had his aggressive and deep-seated tumour treated with the laser in October after being told he had only a year to live – and now says he is ‘living life again’.
The procedure involves a fine narrow tube being inserted into the tumour before a laser is beamed down it, gradually heating up to about 70C, breaking down and killing the cancerous cells.
The procedure involves a fine narrow tube being inserted into the tumour before a laser is beamed down it, gradually heating up to about 70C, breaking down and killing the cancerous cells
Real-time MRI images of the brain are sent to a computer screen, allowing surgeons to monitor where the laser is working.
Studies found that this pioneering laser procedure almost doubles survival time, from five to 11 months, for patients with inoperable brain tumours.
It also provides an alternative to aggressive chemotherapy or radiotherapy, which can further damage the sensitive brain tissues.
Hundreds of brain tumour patients are denied surgery every year because of the damage it can cause to surrounding healthy tissue. But the laser, called Visualase, is so precise that it can treat aggressive, hard-to-reach brain tumours with minimal damage. Often patients can go home the following day, compared to a ten-day hospital stay after conventional brain surgery.
More than 11,000 people are diagnosed with brain tumours each year in the UK and just 14 per cent of adults survive for five years after diagnosis.
Mr Casasbuenas, a PhD student from Richmond in London, was diagnosed with glioblastoma, an aggressive form of the disease, in 2014.
He became the first UK patient to undergo the £35,000 treatment at The Harley Street Clinic in London after it was given European approval for use in April.
Following his initial diagnosis, he had radiotherapy to shrink the tumour and he also needed chemotherapy. But a routine scan in early 2017 showed that the tumour on the left frontal lobe had grown and there was a tiny speck in the right lobe too.
More than 11,000 people are diagnosed with brain tumours each year in the UK and just 14 per cent of adults survive for five years after diagnosis (file image displaying a brain tumour from an unrelated subject)
Doctors used targeted radiotherapy to treat the right side, and Pablo had open brain surgery to remove more than 90 per cent of the tumour. Although the left side was cancer-free, the right speck continued to grow.
He says: ‘I was pretty shocked, especially when doctors told me that average survival is only 14 months. It felt like a ticking time bomb in my head – living with uncertainty was horrible.
‘Yet more brain surgery would put me at high risk of waking up a zombie, since one frontal lobe compensates for another.
‘I didn’t want to burden my wife Ingrid, and I wanted to be there for my son Ernie.’
Pablo was given a general anaesthetic for the three-hour Visualase procedure, which is currently unavailable to NHS patients.
Doctors drilled a 3mm hole in the skull and, guided by MRI, the laser was navigated to the tumour via a catheter measuring 1.65mm in diameter.
The laser was then fired into the tumour and heat of the light energy gradually increased to destroy the cancer cells.
The treatment was monitored using MRI and once the entire area of the tumour was targeted, the surgeons withdrew the catheter and laser, closing the hole in his head with a single stitch.
Professor Keyoumars Ashkan, the consultant neurosurgeon at The Harley Street Clinic and King’s College Hospital in London who carried out the procedure, was thrilled with Mr Casasbuenas’s result.
Prof Ashkan said: ‘This laser-assisted brain surgery with robotics, through a keyhole, is delivered under real-time MRI control, which means that we can safely treat brain tumours in places previously not considered possible to treat.
‘We are pleased with the results so far, since we want to see the MRI showing heat damage to the whole area of the tumour, indicating the whole mass has been treated. This was exactly the case for Pablo.
‘We hope future MRI scans will show no increase in size in the tumour, because the Visualase has killed the tumour cells. The hope is to see the tumour not increasing in size, but the old tumour sitting there dead as a ghost
Mr Casasbuenas said: ‘I woke from surgery feeling pretty good, with just a tiny plaster on my head instead of bandages and stitches as before.
‘The next day I went home with paracetamol, but didn’t really need it. After seven days I was back to running, and three weeks later I competed in a duathlon.
‘I’m living my life again. I thought I had exhausted all treatment options, but to be given this chance makes me feel truly blessed.’
Never mind Sudoku, an electrical headset can supercharge brain power for at least an hour.
Manufacturers claim that wearing the Edge headset for 15 minutes dramatically improves mental performance on cognitive tasks.
The electrical stimulation device, right, developed by HUMM, has a headband implanted with tiny electrodes that deliver stimulation to the brain. The small electrical charge delivered is about 1/100th of the power already used by the brain.
Manufacturers claim that wearing the Edge headset for 15 minutes dramatically improves mental performance on cognitive tasks
The Edge uses transcranial alternating current stimulation that mimics the brain’s electrical patterns, speeding them up. In a trial, users experienced no adverse effects and had improved memory function in written and computer tests.
Electrical brain stimulation is said to enhance mental performance without the side effects of stimulants such as coffee which interfere with sleep. The headset is available in the New Year and costs £31. boostwithedge.com
Screening tests for early lung cancer detection could soon be carried out in shopping centres and car parks.
A pilot scheme in Yorkshire will see testing units set up to screen people identified by GPs as being at risk. The tests, on 7,000 people, will be done by CT scan.
‘We’re trying to find people who would otherwise come to clinics in three years with advanced cancer, and instead find their cancer at an early stage,’ says Dr Matt Callister of Leeds Teaching Hospitals NHS Trust.
Lung cancer kills 35,000 Britons a year.
The humble lettuce could help to combat high blood pressure. Scientists have genetically engineered the plants to produce compounds that can lower blood pressure.
The lettuces provide small amounts of kinase C, a compound that acts to regulate and improve blood pressure.
‘These plants are a raw material for the development of new anti-hypertensive drugs,’ say researchers from the National Institute of Genetic Engineering in Ukraine. Growing medicine through plants is a growing area of medical research.
Trying to get pregnant? A fish supper might help. Replacing meat or other protein sources with fish as little as twice a week could double the chances of a live birth in women having fertility treatment, according to a Harvard University study.
Researchers examined the fish, poultry, red meat and processed meat intake of 351 women and compared their pregnancy outcomes after IVF treatment. Results suggest a diet high in omega-3, found in oily fish, increases the likelihood of a woman’s eggs being fertilised.
Previous studies in men have shown omega-3 is associated with improved motility in sperm.