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Syracuse's Golisano Hospital using laser technology to treat brain tumors

Ellen Abbott/WRVO

Syracuse's Upstate Golisano Children's Hospital is the first in the nation using laser technology to treat a rare, genetic disease with a multi-staged approach. The new use of laser ablation technology has changed the lives of families with children suffering from tuberous sclerosis in central New York.

At three months old, Arianna Failla of Central Square was diagnosed with tuberous sclerosis, a disease that causes non-cancerous tumors, called tubers, to grow in the brain. Those tubers lead to several symptoms, including unrelenting seizures and disruptive behavior. Things changed last February, when the then two-year-old became the first patient in the world treated with this multi-staged laser ablation, which targets more than one tuber at a time.

Her mother Jennifer says attacking more of these non-cancerous tumors at once replaces brain surgery that involves extensive rehabilitation and lengthy hospital stays.

"Actually the first procedure, we had the surgery, we went home the next day," she said. "By the next day she was eating, she was acting herself."

Jennifer also says it's been nothing short of life changing.

"To me it's just amazing to see every day something different she's gonna do." she said. "Her walking, she has better balance. She's able to go up the stairs and go down the stairs. She wasn't able to do that before."

Dr. Zulma Tovar-Spinoza, director of pediatric neurosurgery at Upstate Golisano, developed the protocol..

"We have parents who never knew how it was to go take a coffee, without being afraid something was going to happen to the child," Tovar-Spinoza said. "And some of these parents are telling me, I went for a coffee today with my husband. We didn't have a date since our kid was born. So those are the things that makes the advance of this technology worth it."

This minimally invasive procedure means doctors no longer have to perform a craniotomy or radiation therapy, which means longer hospital stays. The MRI-guided laser technology is relatively new at University Hospital and had been used in treatment of epilepsy and certain kinds of brain tumors. Tovar-Spinoza says using these technologies in different ways should be the wave of the future in medicine.

"As we advance in technology, we should advance also in thinking outside the box on how to improve our practices," Tovar-Spinoza said. "We have the technology available for doing that. We need to be creative to design protocols that are safe for our patients and also the best for them."

Doctors also say there have been dramatic changes to patient behaviors in all the children treated with the multi-stage approach.