August 28, 2015 10:11 am
Updated: August 28, 2015 10:15 am

Painless, no-scalpel brain surgery coming to Edmonton

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WATCH ABOVE: The University of Alberta hospital will soon be home to some amazing new technology. Health reporter Su-Ling Goh explains.

EDMONTON – Ground was broken Thursday at the University of Alberta hospital for a new facility that will allow surgeons to do brain surgery without opening a patient’s skull.

The Gamma Knife, which isn’t even a knife at all, uses tiny radiation beams that act as a virtual scalpel – no cutting required. The radiosurgery can zap an area as small as one millimeter without damaging surrounding tissue.

“And I mean focused. It’s not just four beams, it’s 200 beams,” said Dr. Keith Aronyk, director of Neurosurgery at the U of A Hospital.

It’s described as some of the most advanced technology in brain treatment, providing new options for people with brain tumours, malformations and even disorders like Parkinson’s.

Edmonton father Brad Freeman was diagnosed with a life-threatening growth on his brain, that was removed with a Gamma Knife in Winnipeg.

Supplied, University Hospital Foundation

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With no need to open the skull, patients are spared scalpels, general anesthetic, blood loss, infection risks and prolonged recoveries, and can typically return home the same day. Those benefits made choosing the new technique a “no brainer” for Edmonton husband and father Brad Freeman.

“Essentially you just lay on the bed and listen to music, and they do their thing. You don’t hear anything, you don’t see anything, you don’t feel anything,” Freeman said when describing the treatment for a clump of malformed blood vessels in his brain. The condition means the weakened, tangled vessels could cause bleeding in the brain.

He was sent to Winnipeg, the closest place with a Gamma Knife, for treatment when he was diagnosed. Thanks to $17.5 million in fundraising, including $1.03 million from the 2014 Festival of Trees, Alberta is getting its own Gamma Knife.

Dr. Aronyk said not only does the Gamma greatly speed up recovery; it will also supplement current techniques.

“We’ll say, ‘well, we’ll take 90 per cent of the tumour out, but the last 10 per cent is very close to speech or memory, we’ll leave that and we’ll clear the edges with gamma knife,’ so we use it in collaborative fashion with other types of treatment.”

The Gamma also allows surgeons to treat conditions they couldn’t before, Dr. Aronyk added. “There are a couple of things that operate on, types of acoustic neuromas, and types of AVMs and types of facial pain that we can treat only with a Gamma Knife.”

The Gamma Knife uses 200 tiny radiation beams that act as a virtual scalpel to remove brain tumours.

Supplied, University Hospital Foundation

The Gamma Knife will be installed at the Advanced Brain Imaging and Treatment Unit being built at the U of A, which will also house a new 3T MRI scanner.

“Results are spectacular at 3T. So our radiologists can get really good images, they can find spots that couldn’t find before,” said Dr. Aronyk.

Construction begins in September and the new centre will open in the fall 2017. About 350 patients a year are expected to be treated with the Gamma Knife.

With files from Su-Ling Goh, Global News

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