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Robarts Research Institute: Terry Peters, PhD – A view inside the brain

Can Terry Peters, PhD, give surgeons X-ray vision?

Not quite. But he’s working to equip them with the next best thing.

Peters and his team recently received Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR) funding of $145,000 a year for his work in using image processing to identify abnormal brain tissue in patients with epilepsy. This new funding complements an additional $200,000 of CIHR funding he already received to work on image-guided surgery in the heart and spine.

Throughout the past 15 years, Peters’ work has focused on user interfaces, human factors and imaging technology to help guide surgeons. His goal is to make surgical procedures minimally invasive for the patient and easily maneuverable for the surgeon, ultimately reducing the risk for infection and other complications.

His latest CIHR-funded project will take information from different MRI sequences and extract quantitative data that are then correlated with specific pathological structures in histological slides of resected tissue. His team will be able to correlate the numbers delivered by the MRI sequences with abnormal brain tissue, helping surgeons and radiologists to interpret more clearly what the images mean and what’s causing the abnormalities.

“With this information, we can tell surgeons what the cells ought to look like, and this should help them to be more precise in removing the tissue,” Peters said.

Peters also received approximately $30,000 per year in funding from the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council (NSERC) for his work in developing user interfaces for surgeons using image-guided surgical procedures for multiple organs. This project builds on previous work for minimally invasive cardiac procedures, which has demonstrated that the appropriate choice of visualization system can dramatically improve the speed and safety of an operation.

In the brain, the user interface will provide surgeons with a 3D image of the brain containing detailed maps of the nerve pathways surrounding pathology such as tumours or epileptic foci. While such displays provide them with a comprehensive view of the brain area, the amount and complexity of information can be overwhelming.

“The focus of the NSERC grant is to determine ways of presenting complex information to the surgeon in the most intuitive manner,” Peters said.

This isn’t the only 3D imaging project in the Peters lab. His concurrent work focuses on developing guidance systems for cardiac surgeons repairing mitral and aortic valves in the heart, which allows them to quickly and accurately use only ultrasound imaging as a guide. Peters is hoping that the lessons learned from this application in the heart can be adopted to achieve safer and more accurate procedures for minimally invasive brain surgery as well.

He emphasizes that his work would not be possible without the consistent and enthusiastic support of his medical colleagues. “We are fortunate to have clinicians and surgeons in all disciplines who are very keen to push the limits in working with new technologies, and to help us refine what we should be doing to help them succeed in their practice.”Can Terry Peters, PhD, give surgeons X-ray vision? Not quite. But he’s working to equip them with the next best thing. Peters and his team recently received Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR) funding of $145,000 a year for his work in using image processing to identify abnormal brain tissue in patients with epilepsy.