London, August 30 : French surgeons have successfully used keyhole laser surgery to destroy a brain tumour on a conscious patient. Doctors at Pitie-Salpetriere hospital in Paris drilled a 3mm hole into the skull of a patient under local anaesthetic and inserted a tiny fibre-optic cable armed with a laser, which enabled them to "see" the metastatic tumour and steer the cable.
The procedure also involved magnetic resonance imaging, which uses magnetic and radio waves.
Once inside the skull, the doctors conducted a computer simulation of the treatment, and then activated the laser that heated and killed the tumour tissue for up to two minutes.
The surgeons said that the MRI scan allowed them to modify the exact energy output needed from the laser.
Throughout the procedure, the patient remained wide awake and felt nothing.
The cable was removed when all the cancer cells were dead, and the patient allowed to return home the same day.
"This is the first time that laser technology has been used inside the skull and that it is associated with a MRI giving real time data," the Telegraph quoted chief surgeon Alexandre Carpentier as telling Le Monde newspaper.
A research article in the Neurosurgery journal says that the ground-breaking surgical trials were conducted on 15 patients over the past two years, overseen by France's health security agency Afssaps.
The article also reveals that none of the patients' tumours responded to conventional treatment, and their life expectancy if untreated was no more than three months.
The surgery became possible because of a revolutionary American-designed laser that is permanently chilled to avoid causing blood clots on contact with the brain or epileptic fits.
Surgeons behind this breakthrough believe that their success may pave the way for a whole new type of "interventional" MRI treatment.
They say that the results of their studies will undergo months, probably years, of further stringent tests.