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UPMC Celebrates 25th Anniversary of First Gamma Knife Procedure to Treat Brain Lesions Non-Invasively

PITTSBURGH, Aug. 14, 2012 – Twenty-five years and nearly 12,000 patients ago, UPMC neurosurgeons treated a vascular malformation from a patient’s brain using 201 focused beams of ionizing radiation without making a surgical incision in the first use of Gamma Knife® surgery in North America.
The innovative technology uses multiple beams of intensely focused radiation to precisely destroy vascular malformations and brain tumors or to inactivate pain or abnormal movement centers, explained L. Dade Lunsford, M.D., co-director of the UPMC Center for Image-Guided Neurosurgery and Lars Leksell Professor and Distinguished Professor, Department of Neurological Surgery, University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine. Because it reduces the risk of damage to healthy neighboring tissues, the technique has allowed patients to return home on the same day and to return to normal activities much more quickly than possible with more invasive procedures.
“We now treat more than 650 patients annually with the Leksell Gamma Knife® system and have published numerous scientific papers, textbook chapters and books about the procedure and its long-term outcomes,” Dr. Lunsford said. “In the late 1980s, UPMC gave the Gamma Knife approach a chance to prove its effectiveness and, as that process unfolded, we became a leader in the field of radiosurgery.”
In the procedure performed on Aug. 14, 1987, Dr. Lunsford and his team used the Gamma Knife system – the fifth one in the world – to treat a patient with an arteriovenous malformation of the brain, a vascular lesion that may lead to stroke, seizures or death if left untreated. Today, the technique is routinely used to treat such vascular malformations as well as intracranial tumors that either originated in the brain or spread to it from other sites.
Dr. Lunsford and colleagues noted in the April issue of Expert Reviews of Neurotherapeutics that Gamma Knife radiosurgery can target tumors that are hard to reach surgically, and can be used to eliminate diseased tissue that could not be safely removed during conventional operations. It can be particularly helpful in cases of multiple tumors or metastases that spread from other body sites. More than 10,000 patients with brain tumors have undergone Gamma Knife at UPMC in the last 25 years. In addition, more than 1,000 patients have undergone Gamma Knife radiosurgery for the disabling facial pain called trigeminal neuralgia and movement disorders associated with Parkinson’s disease or familial tremor.
“We expect that during the next five years, there will be an increased trend to use radiosurgery as a first-line treatment of multiple intracranial metastases rather than whole-brain radiation,” said Douglas Kondziolka, M.D., Peter J. Jannetta Professor and vice-chairman, Department of Neurological Surgery, and professor, Department of Radiation Oncology, and co-director of the UPMC Center for Image-Guided Neurosurgery. “In a single outpatient visit, Gamma Knife radiosurgery can target many brain tumors.”
The Center is home to the latest generation of the radiosurgery equipment, called the Leksell Gamma Knife Perfexion®. Dr. Lunsford is a consultant for and stockholder in Stockholm, Sweden-based Elekta AB, maker of the technology. Dr. Kondziolka is also a consultant for the company.

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