Brain surgery with sound shows a lot of promise

Brain surgery with sound shows a lot of promise

It's hard to imagine a surgery more daunting than removing a brain tumor.

But in what could be a revolutionary procedure, Seattle doctors just performed brain surgery with no knives.  And the patient was wide awake the entire time. 

In the first of its kind surgery in the world, doctors at Seattle's Swedish Neuroscience Institute used a specialized cap to direct more than a thousand ultrasound beams onto a metastatic tumor, deep in a patient's brain.

Dr. Stephen Monteith was the lead surgeon and is a co-investigator on the trial examining the safety of using focused ultrasound to treat metastatic brain tumors.  "What we can do is bend the beams so they align into a focal point smaller than a grain of rice if necessary to get an exquisite, accurate point," Dr. Monteith said.

Not only was the patient was awake and talking the whole time, there was no pain.  A patient only experiences the feeling of warmth.

"It heats up the cells and the cells get to a temperature where they can no longer survive," Dr. Monteith said.  "The thought is over time, the cells will die and it sort of shrinks away."

This was a tumor Dr. Monteith couldn't cut out with a knife.  "We can get to anywhere in the brain, but at what cost?" he said.  "Some places we can't get to without causing a severe neurological deficit. So that's why we have these other technologies that we're looking at to help us with those hard to reach places."

The first patient to undergo the ultrasound therapy is now recovering.  Dr. Monteith doesn't know yet how much of the tumor he got but says the first step was to prove the surgery was safe.  And it was.  It was also potentially life saving.

"We were in a situation where we were running out of options," Dr. Monteith said. "We're in the early days, but this is a device that holds a lot of promise."


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