The Philippine Government is expected
to enact the ‘Balik Scientist Act’ next month, which would provide more
incentives to returning Filipino experts, scientists, inventors, and engineers.
The Balik Scientist Act seeks to institutionalise the Balik
Scientist Program (BSP)
of the Department of Science and Technology (DOST), which encourages Filipino
scientists, technologists, and experts to return to the country and share their
expertise in order to promote scientific, agro-industrial, and economic
development and address development gaps in the Philippines. The BSP also aims
to support and strengthen the scientific and technological human resources in
According to the bill the Balik-Scientist Program will
prioritise experts in the fields of space, technology, artificial intelligence,
biomedical engineering, energy agriculture and food technology—biotechnology,
information and communications technology, pharmaceutical, disaster mitigation
and management, environment and natural resources, electronics, genomics,
health, manufacturing, nanotechnology, cyber security and semiconductors.
A Balik Scientist is a science and technology expert who is
a Filipino citizen or a foreigner of Filipino descent, residing abroad and
contracted by the Government to return and work in the Philippines along
his/her field of expertise.
The Act, also known as Senate Bill 1533, was approved in the
third and final reading at the Senate and House of Representatives during the
Bicameral Conference on 06 March 2018 at Senate of the Philippines in Pasay
Under this bill, the incentives available to a scientist returning
to Philippines include: tax and duty exemptions to importation of professional
equipment and materials, free medical and accident insurance covering the award
period, reimbursement of expenses for baggage related to scientific projects,
and exemption from “renouncing their oath of allegiance to the country where
they took the oath.”
A Balik Scientist can also participate in DOST’s Grants-in-Aid
research and development. A grant may be provided to the Balik Scientist and
released through the host institution for the implementation of the project in
accordance with relevant government regulations and the need of the program
The benefits also include special working and non-working
visas, a round-trip airfare from a foreign country to the Philippines,
exemption from local travel tax, and DOST-subsidised visa application.
Long-term Balik Scientist awardees can enjoy relocation
benefits, such as support in securing job opportunities for the spouse of the
awardee, and admission support for the children of awardees in preferred
schools, relocation allowance and monthly housing or accommodation allowance,
and funding for the establishment and development of a facility or laboratory.
Under the bill a person who is a non-bachelor’s degree
graduate but has extensive experience in important fields can be also
considered a Balik Scientist and can apply for the program.
Senator Paulo Benigno “Bam” Aquino IV, principal author in
the Senate, said that both Houses of the legislature are expecting that
President Rodrigo Duterte will sign the Act into law within the next two
Senator Aquino IV said, “Upon transmittal of all the
documents to Malacañang which will take few weeks, then in 30 days if there is
no veto message, we expect that he will sign this and it should be a law by
April or May. I don’t see any reason for the President (Duterte) not to approve
this law. We all know that he would like to see all greatest Filipino minds to
stay in the country to contribute to economic development.”
He added, “Institutionalizing the Balik-Scientist Program of
DOST is one way of showing that we recognise the importance of our scientists
and engineers abroad, especially on how their knowledge, expertise, and
experience could help a lot in order to address some of the pressing problems
of different areas in the country, particularly in the urban part.”
“It is very crucial to strengthen the Balik-Scientist
Program of DOST because we have areas that lack experts. Examples are space
technology and artificial intelligence which are just starting. It is very
crucial to have enough human resource in these fields to help us in conducting
various research and development projects.”
The National Heart Centre Singapore (NHCS) has been on a remarkable journey of advancements in cardiovascular research, particularly in the prevention, diagnosis, and management of heart diseases. With the global rise in heart disease cases, NHCS’s dedication to scientific knowledge and innovation has become increasingly vital.
Since its establishment in 2014, the National Heart Research Institute of Singapore (NHRIS) at NHCS has positioned itself as a leading institution for cardiovascular research in the region. Over the years, NHRIS has achieved significant breakthroughs that hold the potential to transform patient outcomes.
NHRIS’s research encompasses a wide spectrum of disciplines within cardiovascular medicine, spanning basic, translational, and clinical research. Notable achievements include Heart Stem Cell Therapy and Preventing Fibrosis.
By studying patients’ heart stem cells, researchers have uncovered new treatments for heart diseases. For example, a breakthrough treatment using myeloperoxidase has been discovered for hypertrophic cardiomyopathy, an inherited condition characterised by thickening of the heart muscle.
Also, through the study of heart tissue from patients undergoing surgery, NHRIS researchers have identified a potential treatment involving interleukin-11 antibodies to prevent inflammation and fibrosis in the heart and other organs. This innovative therapy has the potential to improve outcomes for patients with various inflammatory and fibrotic conditions.
The next phase of NHCS’s research efforts over the coming years will focus on three key areas:
- Discovery of New Treatments: Ongoing research aims to develop new treatments for heart diseases, enhancing patient outcomes.
- Utilising Artificial Intelligence: NHCS is at the forefront of integrating artificial intelligence (AI) into cardiovascular care. AI holds promise in predicting, diagnosing, and monitoring heart diseases with greater precision and efficiency. The APOLLO study, initiated in 2021, is building an AI-driven national platform for coronary angiography analysis, offering detailed reports on patients’ conditions and future cardiovascular disease risk.
- Clinical Trials and Population Health Studies: NHCS’s research agenda includes conducting clinical trials and population health studies to prevent the onset of heart disease.
NHRIS is pioneering innovative approaches, including Visualising Energy Pathways and AI Applications.
Disturbances in energy-producing pathways in heart muscle contribute to heart conditions as Hyperpolarised magnetic resonance spectroscopy, a novel imaging technology available only in a few centres worldwide, allows the measurement of these metabolic pathways, potentially leading to new treatments for heart disease.
On the other hand, AI accelerates research in the field of cardiovascular science. By processing vast datasets and identifying patterns, AI systems assist researchers in identifying novel treatment methods, risk factors, and disease mechanisms. These insights lead to breakthroughs in treatment and prevention methods, advancing the overall understanding of cardiovascular diseases.
With this, NHCS is leveraging AI to detect, predict, and diagnose heart diseases by analysing complex imaging data. AI provides clinicians with invaluable insights, enabling personalised care and early intervention.
In addition, NHCS collaborates with other heart research institutes and hospitals through CADENCE (Cardiovascular Disease National Collaborative Enterprise), a national platform that combines heart research capabilities in data science, clinical trials, and AI. This collaboration ensures a collective effort to advance cardiovascular research and improve patient care.
NHCS’s groundbreaking research initiatives in AI applications, clinical trials, and collaborative efforts underscore its commitment to enhancing patient care. As NHCS continues its pursuit of research excellence, its impact extends beyond Singapore, benefiting individuals across the region and around the world. The institution is poised to make substantial progress in preventing, diagnosing, and managing cardiovascular diseases, ultimately reshaping the future of cardiovascular medicine.
An innovative microscope developed by a research team at the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology (HKUST) is poised to revolutionise the field of cancer surgery. This cutting-edge microscope, powered by artificial intelligence, has the potential to transform the way surgeons detect and remove cancerous tissue during operations, thereby sparing patients from the distressing prospect of secondary surgeries.
Lung cancer, a leading cause of cancer-related deaths worldwide, has been a focal point for this ground-breaking research. Professor Terence Wong Tsz-Wai, the principal investigator of the project and an assistant professor in the Department of Chemical and Biological Engineering at HKUST, highlights the urgency of their work.
He notes that between 10% to 20% of lung cancer surgery cases require patients to return for a second operation due to incomplete removal of cancer cells. This uncertainty has long plagued surgeons, who often struggle to determine if they’ve successfully excised all cancerous tissue during the initial surgery.
The HKUST research team, led by Prof. Wong, is eager to see their innovation make a significant impact. Collaborating with five hospitals, including Queen Mary Hospital, Prince of Wales Hospital in Hong Kong, and three mainland Chinese hospitals, they have embarked on a large-scale clinical trial involving around 1,000 patient tissue samples. The goal is to have the microscope officially in service locally by 2024 and on the mainland by 2025.
The current methods for imaging cancer tissue offer either accuracy with lengthy delays or speed at the cost of accuracy. Traditional microscopy, considered the gold standard, is highly accurate but can take up to a week to generate results. This means patients must endure a week of anxious waiting to know the outcome of their surgery. In cases where the operation is deemed unsuccessful, patients face the daunting prospect of a second surgery to remove the remaining cancer cells.
The alternative, known as the frozen section, provides quicker results within 30 minutes but sacrifices accuracy, with an estimated accuracy rate of only around 70%.
The HKUST research team’s breakthrough technology, termed “Computational High-throughput Autofluorescence Microscopy by Pattern Illumination” (CHAMP), has changed this landscape. It can detect cancer cells in just three minutes with an accuracy rate exceeding 90%, rivalling the gold standard but with significantly faster results.
CHAMP employs ultraviolet (UV) light excitation to image tissue surfaces at a specific wavelength. Subsequently, a deep learning algorithm transforms the obtained greyscale image into a histological image, facilitating instant interpretation by doctors. This real-time feedback empowers surgeons to ensure they have completely removed all cancer cells during the operation.
CHAMP’s potential has garnered local, regional, and international acclaim, leading to the establishment of a start-up supported by HKUST and funded by the Technology Start-up Support Scheme for Universities (TSSSU). Beyond developing the technology, the company plans to manufacture CHAMP microscopes for medical institutions in Hong Kong, mainland China, and overseas markets.
This endeavour represents the culmination of years of meticulous research, starting with Prof. Wong’s PhD training at Washington University in St. Louis and the California Institute of Technology. During this period, Prof. Wong, under the guidance of biomedical imaging expert Prof. Lihong Wang, developed a microscope capable of analysing breast cancer tumours with an accuracy rate comparable to the gold standard but with results in just one to two hours.
The shift in focus to lung cancer occurred when a pulmonologist approached Prof. Wong, recognising the potential of the technology to enhance precision during lung cancer surgery. This decision led to the development of CHAMP microscopy, which is approximately 100 times faster than Prof. Wong’s earlier work during his PhD training. This breakthrough makes CHAMP clinically useful and impactful.
The applications of CHAMP extend beyond lung and breast cancers. The research team is conducting tests on smaller scales for conditions such as liver, colorectal, kidney, and skin cancers, as well as prostate gland conditions. Prof. Wong is confident that CHAMP will elevate medical imaging and diagnosis to new heights, benefiting not only Hong Kong hospitals but also healthcare institutions nationwide and abroad. This pioneering technology represents a beacon of hope for cancer patients, offering the promise of quicker, more accurate surgeries and improved outcomes.
OpenGov Asia reported that the Hong Kong Science and Technology Parks Corporation (HKSTP) spearheaded an initiative aimed at promoting innovation and technology in the biotech sector, showcasing Hong Kong’s pioneering advancements and entrepreneurial spirit.
This initiative was part of the “Think Business, Think Hong Kong” event organised by the Hong Kong Trade Development Council (HKTDC) in Paris recently. The event was a platform to underscore the potential for cross-border collaboration between Hong Kong and France in the field of biotechnology and innovation.
The government has unveiled the Intelligent Grievance Monitoring System (IGMS) 2.0 Public Grievance Portal and Automated Analysis in the Tree Dashboard portal under the Department of Administrative Reforms and Public Grievances (DARPG). It was unveiled by Jitendra Singh, the Union Minister of State (Independent Charge) for Science and Technology.
The IGMS 2.0 Dashboard was developed by the Indian Institute of Technology, Kanpur (IIT-Kanpur) as part of an agreement with the DARPG through a memorandum of understanding (MoU) signed in 2021. It enhances DARPG’s Centralised Public Grievance Redress and Monitoring System Information Systems (CPGRAMS) by integrating artificial intelligence (AI) capabilities. CPGRAMS is an online platform available to citizens round-the-clock to lodge their grievances to the public authorities on any subject related to service delivery.
The dashboard offers instant tabular analyses of both grievances filed and disposed of. It provides data categorised by state and district for grievances filed, and it also offers Ministry-wise data. Additionally, the dashboard can help officials identify the root causes of grievances.
The CPGRAMS portal receives an increasingly high caseload of issues raised by the general public. Given the public’s expectations for the timely resolution of their grievances, the portal receives approximately 2 million grievances annually.
Due to the substantial volume of grievances received, the manual classification and monitoring of cases is not feasible. The IGMS portal will assist the DARPG in generating draft letters for specific schemes or ministries. This automation expedites the grievance redressal process carried out by the respective ministries and departments involved.
According to Minister Singh, the Prime Minister has repeatedly emphasised the significance of grievance redressal as a crucial element to keep the government accountable and promote citizen-centric governance. In alignment with this vision, a more robust human interface mechanism has been introduced, which includes counselling services provided after the resolution of grievances.
The Minister praised DARPG for ensuring that the CPGRAMS portal is accessible in 22 Scheduled languages, in addition to English, ensuring that the benefits of the portal are accessible to the common man. He also emphasised the importance of integrating state public grievance (PG) portals and other government portals with CPGRAMS for more effective and streamlined grievance redressal processes.
He claimed that thanks to the reforms implemented by DARPG in the CPGRAMS, the average time it takes for central ministries and departments to resolve public grievances has decreased. There has been a decline of almost 50% in the average disposal time for central ministries and departments from 32 days in 2021 to 18 days in 2023.
Minister Singh also launched the Swachhata Special Campaign 3.0 and unveiled the Precedent Book (e-book) developed by the department. He praised the DARPG for achieving the transition to a fully paperless office, where all communication is conducted through the eOffice portal.
During the past two Swachhata campaigns, an impressive 9 million square feet of prime office space has been successfully cleared and repurposed for productive use. Additionally, 456,000 public grievances have been effectively redressed, and 8,998 references from Members of Parliament (MPs) have been addressed. The Swachhata campaign has also played a pivotal role in promoting an eOffice work culture within the government, resulting in over 90% of file work being transitioned to an online format.
Rehabilitation services have gained increasing significance, as highlighted by Deputy Prime Minister Heng Swee Keat during RehabWeek 2023. The demand for rehab services is growing worldwide due to an ageing population and a rising incidence of chronic diseases. To meet this demand and improve outcomes, the field of rehabilitation is embracing innovation, particularly through advancements in technology, robotics, and digitalisation.
Rehabilitation plays a crucial role in enabling individuals, regardless of age, to regain independence and participate meaningfully in daily life. With the World Health Organisation estimating that 1 in 3 people globally may benefit from rehab services, the importance of this field cannot be overstated.
Beyond individual well-being, rehabilitation contributes to productive longevity and reduces downstream medical costs when integrated into holistic care plans. Thus, it aligns with the United Nations Sustainable Development Goal of “healthy lives and well-being for all at all ages.”
Deputy Prime Minister Heng shared his personal experience as a stroke survivor, emphasising the pivotal role that therapists and early rehabilitation played in his recovery journey. Early rehab interventions were instrumental in mitigating the debilitating effects of extended bed rest in the ICU. Dedicated therapists, combined with intensive rehab, enabled him to regain full functionality, underscoring the transformative potential of rehabilitation services.
Innovations in rehabilitation leverage broader trends like robotics and digitalisation. These innovations offer precision rehabilitation, tailoring treatment plans to individual needs. They also mitigate manpower constraints by augmenting human efforts with technology.
For instance, robotics-assisted physiotherapy and games-based cognitive exercises are becoming increasingly prevalent. Moreover, virtual rehabilitation has gained prominence during the COVID-19 pandemic, enhancing convenience and empowering patients to take charge of their rehab journeys from home.
Many societies are facing the dual challenge of an ageing population and a declining workforce to provide rehabilitation services. Technology is critical in augmenting these efforts to meet growing demand. Innovations in rehabilitation enhance its effectiveness and accessibility, ensuring that patients follow through with and benefit from rehab programs.
Singapore is at the forefront of innovative rehabilitation practices. Its acute hospitals offer excellent rehab care services and conduct research to improve care. Notably, Tan Tock Seng Hospital is a pioneer in rehabilitation medicine. Changi General Hospital houses the Centre for Healthcare Assistive and Robotics Technology (CHART), facilitating the synergy between clinical needs and technological innovation.
The One-Rehab Framework is a recent innovation in Singapore, ensuring timely access to rehabilitation care. This framework enables seamless care coordination across different settings and care team members through a common IT portal and harmonised clinical outcomes. It streamlines the sharing of relevant patient information and encourages right-siting of care within the community, reducing the burden on acute hospitals.
According to Deputy Prime Minister Heng, RehabWeek serves as a platform for delegates with diverse expertise and a shared commitment to advancing rehabilitation care. It encourages the sharing of best practices and useful technologies to strengthen collective impact, especially when addressing global challenges.
Singapore stands ready to collaborate with international partners, offering its strong ecosystem in research, innovation, and enterprise to advance the field of rehabilitation for the benefit of people worldwide.
He added that rehabilitation is evolving and embracing technological innovations to meet the increasing demand for its services, especially in ageing societies. “Collaboration, innovation, and a focus on the last-mile delivery of care are crucial for ensuring that individuals can live well and maximise their potential through effective rehabilitation,” Deputy Prime Minister Heng said. “Singapore’s commitment to these principles makes it a valuable partner in advancing the frontiers of rehabilitation on a global scale.”
The Vietnamese government has said that digital transformation and green transformation are inevitable global trends. They have a crucial role in enhancing economic growth, labour productivity, competitiveness, production, and business efficiency. They also reduce reliance on fuel sources that cause pollution and minimise carbon footprint.
To discuss digital and green transformation for sustainable development and to foster networking opportunities for businesses to accelerate their green transitions, the Ministry of Science and Technology held a forum in the northern province of Quang Ninh.
Domestic and international scientists, along with representatives from organisations and technology companies, deliberated on strategies to speed up green and digital transformations. They underscored the importance of advancing technological innovation and implementing reforms in human resource management, training, and quality enhancement to create new products and processes. This, in turn, will boost business value, aid in the delivery of better goods and services to society, and expedite Vietnam’s industrialisation and modernisation processes.
Participants suggested the establishment of a support mechanism for industries implementing green and digital transformation solutions in Vietnamese businesses. They also stressed that it is necessary to promote Horizon Europe’s international cooperation programme on joint research and innovation for Vietnam and have comprehensive digital transformation solutions for businesses.
During the forum, Quang Ninh province representatives, the Vietnam Union of Science and Technology Associations (VUSTA), businesses, and organisations exchanged memoranda of understanding regarding collaboration in the domains of digital transformation and green transformation.
Vietnam has been introducing emerging technologies in the agricultural sector to promote sustainable growth. Earlier this year, the government announced plans to introduce artificial intelligence (AI) for the optimisation of farming practices, including weather prediction, monitoring of plant and livestock health, and enhancing product quality.
AI can improve crop productivity and help control pests, diseases, and cultivation conditions. It can improve the performance of farming-related tasks across food supply chains. Advancements in the manufacturing of AI-controlled robots are assisting farmers worldwide in utilising less land and labour while simultaneously boosting production output.
Vietnam’s commitment to technological advancements in agriculture extends beyond AI, as highlighted by the government’s plans to harness biotechnology. In September, the Politburo issued a resolution under which Vietnam aims to be among the top ten Asian countries in biotechnology production and services by 2030.
As OpenGov Asia reported, the biotechnology sector is on the verge of becoming a significant economic and technological industry, with an expected 50% rise in the number of companies in terms of investment size and growth rate. Additionally, it is projected that half of the imported biotechnology products will be substituted by domestic production. This sector is anticipated to make a 7% contribution to the Gross Domestic Product (GDP).
Vietnam aims to establish a thriving biotechnology sector by 2045, positioning itself as a prominent centre for smart production, services, biotechnology startups, and innovation in Asia. This sector is expected to contribute 10% to 15% to the GDP by that year.
As a result of its tropical climate and its economic shift away from agriculture, biotechnology plays a vital role in Vietnam’s industrialisation and modernisation efforts. It contributes significantly to ensuring food security, facilitating economic restructuring, and promoting sustainable development. Furthermore, in environmental conservation, biotechnology has brought forth numerous solutions. These include the breakdown of inorganic and organic pollutants, waste treatment, industrial waste processing, and the use of microorganisms to address oil spills and incidents of oil contamination.
Vietnam can focus on developing various aspects within the biotechnology sector, such as agricultural advancements in crop and animal breeding, manufacturing veterinary drugs, developing vaccines, and creating bio-fertilizers.
Defence Minister Rajnath Singh has inaugurated several digital projects for the Defence Accounts Department (DAD) as part of its 276th Annual Day celebrations. The initiatives include:
The Summary of Accounts, Budget, and Expenditure for Raksha Mantralaya (the Ministry of Defence) tool aims to provide a more accurate and objective view of defence financial information like payment, accounting, and budgeting in India.
This analytics tool integrates, compiles, sanitises, and standardises financial data from various applications, data sources, and databases. It then offers a real-time, comprehensive platform with dashboard features, allowing users to visualise trends, display metrics, present graphs illustrating key performance indicators, and generate reports, among other functionalities.
SARANSH will function as a complete dashboard for higher management, offering a quick overview of all defence expenditures. It enables centralised monitoring and encourages data-driven decision-making for all defence organisations.
The Bill Information and Work Analysis System will function as a dashboard for various Principal Controllers of Defence Accounts (PCsDA)/ Controllers of Defence Accounts (CsDA), providing different infographics to monitor and analyse the whole process flow of bill management. It will also generate reports on Key Performance Indicators (KPIs). It provides real-time detailed analyses of bill processing, with interactive visualisations of granular data flowing through the various office automation systems within a controller office.
E-Raksha Awaas is a centralised and comprehensive software package designed to enhance and streamline the process of generating rent and related charges for rentable buildings within Defence Services. It also facilitates the prompt remission of these charges to government accounts. This package acts as a unified online platform for all stakeholders engaged in the generation, recovery, and remission of rent and allied charges.
Minister Singh described the DAD as the guardian of defence finance and commended its efforts to strengthen the country’s defence capabilities through transparent and efficient systems, praising its prudent resource management and output optimisation.
He suggested ways to improve the department’s efficiency such as encouraging DAD officials to enhance their professional skills to address the challenges posed by “constantly evolving times”. He urged them to partner with organisations like the Indian Institutes of Management (IIMs) and the Institute of Chartered Accountants of India (ICAI) to create and implement customised training modules, as per requirements.
Providing financial advice is one of the DAD’s most crucial responsibilities, the Minister noted. The DAD should consider two key aspects when offering financial advice: a realistic assessment of the demands of the user agency and a thorough understanding of the product’s market.
He explained that it is important to evaluate whether there is a need to purchase a product and whether a similar product of equal or greater effectiveness is available in the market at a lower cost. This understanding will enhance the quality of financial advice.
Furthermore, to foster such an understanding, Singh suggested establishing an in-house mechanism—a standing committee of experienced individuals who can research and analyse market forces and offer valuable insights to field officers. “Big banks and financial institutions develop in-house economic intelligence and research teams. On similar lines, the DAD needs to develop an in-house team for market research and intelligence,” he stated.
It is also vital to strengthen the internal vigilance mechanism to detect and review suspicious activity. This will not only expedite addressing issues but also enhance public trust in the department, the Minister said.
Scientists from Washington University in St. Louis have created a sonobiopsy method to diagnose brain disease. The Sonobiopsy method employs ultrasound and microbubbles to momentarily breach the barrier, enabling brain RNA, DNA, and proteins to enter the bloodstream for analysis. While this technique was initially tested on animals, a recent study demonstrates its safety and viability for human use. This innovation may pave the way for non-invasive brain disease and tumour diagnostics.
Eric Leuthardt, MD, co-senior author and co-inventor of the technology, stated that Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) drastically transformed brain disease diagnosis in the 1980s and ’90s, offering structural and functional brain imaging capabilities.
Leuthardt, the Shi Hui Huang Professor of Neurosurgery and a professor of neuroscience at the School of Medicine in biomedical engineering and mechanical engineering at the McKelvey School of Engineering referred to sonobiopsy as the third revolution, emphasising its molecular aspect. This innovative technique allows blood sample collection reflecting gene expression and molecular characteristics at the brain lesion site, essentially performing a brain biopsy without the associated risks of surgery.
Eric Leuthardt and Hong Chen, PhD, Associate Professors of Biomedical Engineering at McKelvey Engineering and Neurosurgery at the School of Medicine, developed the groundbreaking technique, focusing on multidisciplinary research to create engineered solutions for neurological diseases.
The technique employs focused ultrasound to target a brain lesion at a millimetre scale. Subsequently, microbubbles are injected into the bloodstream, travelling to the designated area and bursting, creating minuscule, temporary openings in the blood-brain barrier. These openings naturally close within a few hours, causing no lasting harm. Within this time frame, brain lesion biomolecules can exit the bloodstream, facilitating their collection through a standard blood draw.
Hong Chen, another Senior Co-author and co-inventor of the technology described this innovation as initiating a new field for brain-related conditions. It offers the capability to noninvasively and nondestructively access all brain regions, enabling the retrieval of genetic information about tumours before surgical procedures.
This information aids neurosurgeons in determining the best approach to surgery, helping confirm the nature of suspicious findings on imaging. Furthermore, it paves the way for studying diseases that typically don’t undergo surgical biopsies, including neurodevelopmental, neurodegenerative, and psychiatric disorders.
Initially, the researchers utilised a commercially available ultrasound device combined with an MRI scanner, a setup limited by cost and MRI availability. To streamline the procedure, Hong Chen’s team designed a portable, handheld ultrasound probe that could be attached to a stereotactic pointer commonly used by neurosurgeons for pinpointing brain lesions. This device was seamlessly integrated into the clinical workflow, requiring no additional training for neurosurgeons.
Eric Leuthardt emphasised the user-friendliness of this device, stating that it was efficiently utilised during the study in the operating room but could also be employed in a clinic or at a patient’s bedside in a hospital. He noted that this approach was a significant step toward making advanced diagnostics more accessible, enabling the examination of patients’ brains without needing a high-tech, multimillion-dollar scanner.
In their research, the team conducted sonobiopsies on five individuals with brain tumours using this device. Subsequently, the tumours were removed surgically following the standard care protocol.
The analysis of blood samples collected before and after sonication revealed that the technique increased circulating tumour DNA, ranging from 1.6-fold to 5.6-fold, depending on the specific type of DNA examined.
Circulating tumour DNA holds crucial information about genetic alterations in a patient’s tumour, which guides treatment decisions regarding the tumour’s aggressiveness. Notably, the procedure showed no signs of causing damage to brain tissue, affirming its safety.