• Question: Hello, My grandmother has had a non cancerous brain tumour and they removed it however it came back! She was very old when it came back so when she went into surgery it caused her to become very frail and she had huge amounts of memory loss. Do you think there will ever be an device that would be able to fully remove a non cancerous brain tumour without devastating side effects?

    Asked by 455srge46 to Matthew on 15 Mar 2016.
    • Photo: Matthew Oldfield

      Matthew Oldfield answered on 15 Mar 2016:

      Hello. I’m very sorry to hear about your grandmother. I honestly don’t know a lot about brain tumours as there are so many different kinds. Some are much more dangerous than others. Some brain cancers aren’t even operated on.

      The steerable needle we are working on is designed to provide treatment for the most deadly kind of brain cancer. One of the problems of these types of cancer is that even if they are cut out they return. The cancers can also adapt to the drugs they are treated with – so the drug becomes ineffective. Treating brain cancer is so difficult as a result.

      There is a great book by a brain surgeon: Do No Harm: Stories of Life, Death and Brain Surgery by Henry Marsh where he talks about how hard the decisions about treatment are.

      One of the things that surgeons and engineers are looking at is how to remove as much of the cancer without damaging the tissue around it. This will preserve as much of things like speech and memory but sometimes, for overall survival, the surgeons have to make a very difficult decision. Medical imaging specialists try to give the surgeon the information to make those decisions as well as possible.

      One day there may be some technology that does exactly what you ask about. Often cancers can grow into and around the surrounding healthy brain so it is almost impossible to remove one without some of the health tissue too. As an engineer, working with doctors and other health specialists being able to do what you say is the ultimate goal. It is, unfortunately, a long, long way off. Things are continually improving though.