When chemo and radiation therapy fail, some cancer specialists zap tumors with lasers to burn and kill malignant cells. But "thermal ablation techniques are often done in an almost blind fashion," says Ashok Gowda, president and founder of Houston-based Visualase. After each burst of heat, doctors must scan the patient to see how much tissue they've destroyed.
To improve their aim, some surgeons now use continuous magnetic resonance imaging in conjunction with a laser, and Visualase has developed an integrated system that provides real-time MR guidance. That approach, which various researchers have tested in patients with brain, lung, and liver cancers, promises to help surgeons target the cancer while sparing surrounding healthy tissue.