A screenshot from a Monteris Medical video that shows how a laser is used to destroy brain cancer cells.
A screenshot from a Monteris Medical video that shows how a laser is used to destroy brain cancer cells.

Jewish Hospital is offering a new robotic laser therapy that is giving new hope to some brain cancer patients.

Laser interstitial thermal therapy, or LITT, uses heat to kill cancer cells in areas that previously were considered inoperable because of the tumor’s location and complexity, or both.

“This really increases the number of options that patients have,” Dr. Brian J. Williams, a neurosurgeon with UofL Physicians, told IL.

Dr. Brian J. Williams
Dr. Brian J. Williams

With LITT, doctors open a small hole — about the diameter of a pencil — in the patient’s cranium, and insert a thin fiber, similar to fiber-optic cable, that they guide to the tumor, with the help of real-time magnetic resonance imaging.

Williams said that the tip of the fiber transmits the energy to the tumor, and doctors can precisely control temperatures depending on how quickly they want to destroy tissue. For example, at 44 degrees Celsius (about 111 degrees Fahrenheit), cells die after about two to three minutes. At 60 degrees Celsius, tissue is destroyed immediately. Doctors also monitor the temperature of nearby healthy tissue to make sure it is protected.

LITT also might be an option for patients who previously would have undergone traditional surgery to shrink the tumor, Williams said, because of the therapy’s precision and reduced recovery time.

Traditional surgery typically requires the patient to remain in the hospital for days or even a week, he said, while LITT requires only an overnight stay. That also means patients recover more quickly from the surgery and can sooner undergo radiation or chemotherapy treatments.

Shrinking the tumor can be critical to removing it completely through radiation and chemotherapy, Williams said, because the fewer cancer cells remain after the surgery, the lower the chance that one of the cancer cells is resistant to the other treatments.

KentuckyOne Health, which owns Jewish Hospital, said in a press release that the new procedure also produces less pain, discomfort and scarring than traditional surgery.

For some patients, LITT presents an additional option, and for others, it presents the only option to shrink the tumor before radiation and chemotherapy, Williams said.

How Jewish Hospital's new robotic laser therapy works. | Courtesy of KentuckyOne Health.
How Jewish Hospital’s new robotic laser therapy works. | Courtesy of KentuckyOne Health.

It provides “a little bit more hope for people with brain cancer,” he said.

The therapy also has applications for patients who have spine tumors and who may be too sick for traditional surgery, and for people with epilepsy who previously had to undergo more invasive surgery to remove the brain tissue that incited seizures.

One drawback of the new therapy, Williams said, is that its potential side effects and its long-term benefits are still being evaluated.

He said he expects “many thousands” of patients in Kentucky to be potentially eligible for the procedure.

Jewish Hospital is using the NeuroBlate System from Monteris Medical for its LITT therapy. The hospital purchased the system, which costs $650,000, from donations to the Jewish Hospital & St. Mary’s Foundation. The procedure is covered by insurance, and out-of-pocket costs to patients depend on the insurance plan and deductible. Hundreds of patients in the U.S. have undergone the procedure, including two already at Jewish Hospital.

Boris Ladwig
Boris Ladwig is a reporter with more than 20 years of experience and has won awards from multiple journalism organizations in Indiana and Kentucky for feature series, news, First Amendment/community affairs, nondeadline news, criminal justice, business and investigative reporting. As part of The (Columbus, Indiana) Republic’s staff, he also won the Kent Cooper award, the top honor given by the Associated Press Managing Editors for the best overall news writing in the state. A graduate of Indiana State University, he is a soccer aficionado (Borussia Dortmund and 1. FC Köln), singer and travel enthusiast who has visited countries on five continents. He speaks fluent German, rudimentary French and bits of Spanish, Italian, Khmer and Mandarin.