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First brain cancer surgeries using new space-age probe are successful

For the first time, surgeons have used a special lighting technology, developed for space-based commercial plant growth research on NASA's Space Shuttle, in two successful operations to treat brain cancer on Earth.

"A young woman operated on in May has fully recovered with no complications and no evidence of the tumor coming back," said Dr. Harry Whelan, a pediatric neurologist at the Medical Hospital of Wisconsin in Milwaukee and professor of neurology at the Medical College of Wisconsin, also in Milwaukee. "A young man who underwent surgery in August is still recovering, but everything looks great, and thus far there is no evidence of the tumor reoccurring."

For the treatment technique called Photodynamic Therapy, a surgeon uses tiny pinhead-size Light Emitting Diodes (LEDs) -- a source releasing long wavelengths of light -- to activate light-sensitive, tumor-treating drugs.

To ensure other promising LED medical applications are investigated, NASA recently selected a Phase II Small Business Innovation Research proposal for negotiation with Quantum Devices Inc. of Barneveld, Wis. -- the company that developed LEDs for commercial plant growth investigations on the Space Shuttle. When the Phase II contract is awarded, Quantum Devices will receive $600,000 to continue promising research begun under the Phase I Small Business Innovation Research contract that was just completed.

"NASA was pleased to fund the first phase of the research leading to these two successful surgeries," said Helen Stinson, Marshall's manager of the Small Business Innovative Research program, which awarded the grant. The program is part of NASA's Technology Transfer Department at the Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Ala. "We're happy to fund Quantum as it continues to explore cutting-edge medical uses for the LEDs," Stinson added.

"It has been very exciting to work with NASA and Dr. Whelan to design the LED probe
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Contact: Steve Roy
Steve.Roy@msfc.nasa.gov
256-544-0034
NASA/Marshall Space Flight Center News Center
30-Sep-1999


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