Visualization Method Offered at NHRMC Helps Neurosurgeons Remove Cancerous Brain Tumors

July 02, 2019

An imaging agent that highlights cancerous brain cells during surgery is now being used at New Hanover Regional Medical Center to help improve outcomes from surgery. When viewed under a blue light, the active substance in the imaging agent causes cancerous tissue to glow, which can help the neurosurgeon distinguish between bad and good tissue.

The imaging agent can be used for patients with more aggressive grade III or grade IV gliomas, a type of brain tumor. Glioma describes tumors that begin in glial cells, which make up the supportive tissue of the brain. Gliomas account for 78 percent of malignant brain tumors, according to the American Association of Neurological Surgeons.

“Often with gliomas it can be difficult to clearly see the delineation between normal and cancerous tissue. This is a problem because patient outcomes and life expectancy often hinges on resecting all of the tumor without damaging the patient’s normal brain tissue,” said J. Alex Thomas, MD, chair of NHRMC’s Neurosciences Department.

Patients drink the substance several hours before their surgery. It contains aminolevulinic acid, which prompts a reaction in high-grade tumors that makes them appear a red-violet fluorescence under blue light, whereas other tissue would appear blue.

“Now, the patient simply drinks the solution before their procedure and the abnormal tissue literally lights up under the microscope,” Dr. Thomas said. “It is like someone shining a spotlight on the cancerous tissue so that I can clearly see what I am trying to remove. This means better outcomes for patients.”

For more information on NHRMC Neuroscience, visit: