Health Watch - Brain Surgery With Water

When Eden Mae Posey was diagnosed with a brain tumor, her mom Angela was stunned.

"Denial … I just absolutely did not believe it. They just came in and said they found a gray area, and I just looked at them and said, 'What do you mean a gray area?'" Angela Hill recalls.

Eden Mae needed surgery to remove the tumor. It's always a tricky operation. The brain contains thousands of nerve tracts, each in charge of a different function like speech, memory, motion … even vision. One false move could cause major damage.

"A few millimeters difference makes a big difference for the patient, for quality of life after the surgery," says Zoltan Patay, M.D., Ph.D., a neuroradiologist at St. Jude Children's Research Hospital in Memphis, Tenn.

Surgeons previously had to look at scans to decide how to get to the tumor, but they didn't' know for sure where those important nerve tracts were.

Now, researchers at St. Jude are using DTI, or diffusion tensor imaging, to plan surgery. First, patients have a standard MRI scan. Then, sophisticated computer software turns the images to color. Doctors can see every nerve tract in relation to the tumor.

"This is spectacular. Every time I see it, it still impresses me. You know, it's really, every time is like the first time," Dr. Patay says.

DTI works by measuring the movement of water molecules in the brain. Each color shows a different nerve and the direction it runs.

"This is the first time that we can non-invasively predict where these fiber tracts are located," Dr. Patay says.

Doctors planned Eden Mae's surgery using the DTI method and were able to remove most of her tumor -- an outcome they consider a success.

Eden Mae will probably need chemotherapy to get rid of the rest of her tumor, but her prognosis looks good. Doctors say she has no permanent physical damage.

The technology is currently being used at several major medical centers around the country to both diagnose certain conditions and plan brain surgeries.


Summer Freeman
Media Relations Specialist
St. Jude Children's Hospital
Memphis, TN

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