Quantum technology goes society: joint project DiaQNOS develops quantum sensors to improve brain tumor surgery
Removing brain tumors presents a special challenge for surgeons: They must remove the tumor without damaging healthy brain tissue. Among other things, it is important to pay close attention to the motor cortex, which is responsible for movement. For example, if the nerve pathway from this area to the arm is severed, the patient will no longer be able to move that arm after surgery. Proper diagnosis is already helping to identify and protect these nerve tracts and brain regions.
DiaQNOS: A Flagship Project in Quantum Sensor Technology
In the future, quantum sensor technology promises to further improve the assignment of functions to certain brain regions – through new diagnostic devices and, inter alia, improved neuronavigation. A consortium of the Johannes Gutenberg University Mainz (JGU) and the Helmholtz Institute Mainz (HIM) is working together with various partners from research, medicine and industry in the new DiaQNOS project this. The five-year project, which starts in October 2022, is being funded by the German Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF) and totals almost 11 million euros. The University of Mainz, as project leader, will receive 1.5 million euros.
The foundation of the DiaQNOS project was laid by the collaborative project BrainQSens, in which JGU also participated. The BrainQSens consortium develops highly sensitive magnetic sensors that could improve medical diagnostics. “In this flagship quantum sensor project, we have been able to improve the magnetic field sensor technology to such an extent that in principle the magnetic field of the brain could be recorded with it,” explains the Ph.D. Arne Wickenbrock, from JGU and HIM, is coordinating the joint project. “The question now is to take the next step on the road to medical applications and to make quantum sensor technology useful for society.” The DiaQNOS consortium reflects this application focus, in addition to neurosurgeons from the University Hospital Freiburg, the technology’s The end user, medical device manufacturer inomed Medizintechnik GmbH was also represented. In addition, Sacher Lasertechnik GmbH and TTI GmbH also contributed their expertise as companies experienced in the commercialization of new developments.
A device suitable for surgery will be developed in three years, followed by two years of medical research. Among other things, brain tissue samples from the Freiburg Tissue Bank will be examined for the first time for their magnetic properties, especially with regard to new diagnostic possibilities for brain tumors.
Mainz expertise in quantum sensor construction
Among other things, researchers at the University of Mainz and HIM are working on building quantum sensors. For many years, the research group of Prof. Dmitry Budker has strengthened magnetism as a core competence in Mainz, and he himself will contribute his expertise to the project. “These quantum sensors are based on nitrogen vacancies in diamond, nanoscale magnetic field sensors confined in diamond. A large number of these magnetic field sensors can exist in a thin layer of diamond. This allows us to create magnetic images,” Wickenbrock explained. Neural communication in the human body occurs through electrical charges passing through neural pathways. Every moving charge generates a magnetic field, so there are countless magnetic fields in the human body, including the brain. The sensor is designed to detect and analyze these, telling the surgeon more about the function of the various brain regions. This will allow doctors to more precisely plan the path of the incision in a way that is gentler on the patient.