New project aims to develop quantum sensors to improve brain tumor surgery

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Brain tumor removal presents special challenges for surgeons: they must remove the tumor without damaging healthy brain tissue. Among other things, it is important to keep an eye on the motor cortex responsible for movement. If, for example, a nerve path leading from it to the arm is severed, the patient will no longer be able to move this arm after the operation. Appropriate diagnostics already help to identify and spare these nerve pathways and brain regions.

DiaQNOS: flagship project in quantum sensor technology

In the future, quantum sensor technology should further improve the assignment of functions to certain areas of the brain – via new diagnostic devices that, among other things, refine neuronavigation. A consortium of the Johannes Gutenberg University Mainz (JGU) and the Helmholtz Institute Mainz (HIM) is working on it in the new DiaQNOS project together with various partners from research, medicine and industry. The five-year project, which started in October 2022, is funded by the German Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF) with a total of nearly 11 million euros. The University of Mainz, as project leader, will receive 1.5 million euros.

The basis of the DiaQNOS project was laid by the collaborative project BrainQSens, in which JGU was also represented. The BrainQSens consortium has developed highly sensitive magnetic sensors that help improve medical diagnostics.

“In this flagship quantum sensor project, we have already been able to improve magnetic field sensor technology to such an extent that, in principle, brain magnetic fields can be recorded there,” explained Dr Arne Wickenbrock of JGU and HIM. , which coordinates the joint project. “Now it’s about taking the next steps on the road to medical application and making quantum sensor technology useful to society.” The DiaQNOS consortium reflects this application orientation in that, in addition to the neurosurgeons of the University Hospital of Freiburg, i.e. the potential users of the technology, the medical device manufacturer inomed Medizintechnik GmbH is also represented. In addition, Sacher Lasertechnik GmbH and TTI GmbH, as companies experienced in the commercialization of new developments, contribute their expertise.

A device suitable for use in surgery must be developed over a period of three years, followed by two years of medical research. Among other things, brain tissue samples from a tissue bank in Freiburg will be examined for the first time for their magnetic properties, in particular with regard to new diagnostic possibilities for brain tumors.

Mainz expertise in building a quantum sensor

Among other things, researchers from the University of Mainz and HIM are dedicated to the construction of the quantum sensor. Professor Dmitry Budker’s research group has strengthened magnetography as a core skill in Mainz over the years and he himself will bring his expertise to the project.

These quantum sensors are based on nitrogen vacancies in diamonds, i.e. nanoscale magnetic field sensors confined within the diamond. Many of these magnetic field sensors can exist in a thin layer of diamond. This allows us to create a magnetic image of the object that the sensor sees.”


Dr. Arne Wickenbrock of JGU and HIM

Nerve communication in the human body works via electrical charges that travel through nerve pathways. Every moving charge generates a magnetic field so there are many magnetic fields in the human body including the brain. The sensor is designed to detect and analyze them and thus tell surgeons more about the function of the respective brain areas. This will allow doctors to plan the incision path more precisely and in a gentler way for the patient.

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