Technology developed by a Calgary surgeon that shows whether or not brain tumours have been successfully removed during operations has landed its first commercial sales, including to a prestigious Harvard University hospital.
Two of the $2.5-million US intra-operative MRI systems, developed by Calgary neurosurgeon Dr. Garnette Sutherland and in use only at University Foothills Hospital-University of Calgary, have been sold in the U.S.
One unit is going to Children’s Hospital Boston and the other to a general hospital in Wilkes-Barre in northeastern Pennsylvania. The Boston hospital is Harvard medical school’s main pediatric teaching hospital.
“The who’s-who of neurosurgery have travelled to Calgary and looked at this system, from all over America and the world,” Sutherland, director of the Seaman Family MR Research Centre at Foothills Hospital, said in an interview.
|Photo courtesy of the University of Calgary|
|Dr. Garnette Sutherland has reason to smile after the sale of two of his intra-operative MRI systems to American hospitals.|
After some 10 years of research and development, “the constant proving of the technology . . . the constant showing of what we have to neurosurgeons, has paid off,” he added.
Sutherland is scientific adviser to Winnipeg-based Innovative Magnetic Resonance Imaging Systems Inc. (IMRIS), which builds and sells the technology that Sutherland invented and has proved – in operation after operation – works.
“We have two sales in the U.S. and we hope to have another two (also in the U.S.) within the next six weeks or so,” said John Saunders, president and CEO of IMRIS.
Saunders, a former National Research Council of Canada scientist, collaborated closely with Sutherland to develop the intra-operative MRI system and bring it to market.
“We’ve been at this for quite a while,” Saunders said. “It’s very gratifying that people actually want to buy what we have developed.”
Many neurosurgeons as well as medical experts outside the field believe that the intra-operative MRI system will revolutionize the way brain tumour surgery and other critically precise operations in the body are performed.
“Dr. Sutherland is truly a Renaissance man who has revolutionized neurosurgery and put Calgary, Alberta and Canada on the map in this area,” said Dr. Quentin Pittman, a medical scientist with the Alberta Heritage Foundation for Medical Research and past- president of the Canadian Physiological Society.
Saunders said that IMRIS is also talking with potential customers in Europe and China.
The intra-operative MRI system includes a specially designed, powerful five-tonne magnetic resonance imaging device suspended from a track in the ceiling. The entire system can be easily moved along the track from one room to another.
The system enables surgeons to take clear, high-quality “pictures” of the inside of a patient’s brain while operating. Moved to another room, the technology allows radiologists to produce images they use in diagnosing a patient’s symptoms.
The MR images clearly show surgeons during the operation whether they have in fact removed the entire tumour and whether certain surgical procedures will put patients at greater risk.
The system means surgeons no longer have to wait to do post-operative imaging of the patient’s brain to see whether the operation was successful or will have to be redone, Sutherland said. “Now we have our pictures, in the exact way we’re operating.”
Neurosurgery has become increasingly precise and less invasive in going after a tumour target, and surgical tools are now smaller than they’ve ever been. This means surgeons have come to depend on post-operative images to check whether their surgery was successful.
“Not only do many say, ‘I wish I could do (that procedure) again, but they also say, ‘We will be doing it again – next week,’” Sutherland said.
But the intra-operative MRI system, he noted, “abolishes the problem of re-do surgery.”
The system has also been able to detect unexpected problems in about one out of every five patients seen so far, Sutherland said.
In one young boy, the MR images showed the abnormality in his brain – originally diagnosed as a malignant brain tumour – was actually a lesion likely caused by a virus.
The lesion disappeared within days and didn’t require an operation.
Sutherland, who in 1996 first used his system to successfully remove a brain tumour in a German shepherd-cross dog named Kayla, has now performed surgery using the technology on more than 540 human patients.
Earlier this year, he received a $10.5-million grant from the Canadian Foundation for Innovation to develop the next generation of the system, called “neuroArm.”
This robotic version will allow a surgeon to control an operation inside the brain or other parts of the body – with 1,000 times greater precision than a human surgeon is capable of – from a computerized workstation.
Sutherland hopes to have a working prototype within a year.