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Non-Invasive Brain Surgery is a Step Closer

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1 Non-Invasive Brain Surgery is a Step Closer on Sun Oct 11, 2009 4:53 am


Researchers at the University Children's Hospital in Zürich have developed a completely non-invasive brain surgery technique to treat neuropathic pain, that is, pain that results from a nerve injury / problems with nerve signaling.

Conventional methods involve making an incision in the scalp, drilling a hole in the skull and inserting electrodes into the brain. However, penetrating the brain in this way can damage healthy tissue and cause significant side-effects for the patient.

The new technique uses a special type of magnetic resonance imaging to scan the brain and locate the problem area. Once found, a special transmitter within the device delivers ultrasound waves to that region, to 'burn away' the affected tissue. The process is non-invasive and requires no opening of the skull.

Most people associate ultrasound with pregnancy and the harmless scans performed to monitor the baby's growth. However, please note that the way in which ultrasound affects the body depends upon both the means by which it is delivered and its intensity, and these can be adapted for many medical uses.

The researchers have already piloted this method on ten patients, who had neuropathic pain due to conditions such as stroke, nerve injury and post-amputation phantom limb syndrome. The preliminary results show that, in terms of treating neuropathic pain, it is as effective as conventional surgery. These findings will soon be published in Annals of Neurology.

Mr Daniel Jeanmonod, a neurosurgeon at the University of Zurich commented,"This study showed that we can perform successful operations in the depth of the brain without opening the cranium or physically penetrating the brain with medical tools, something that appeared to be unimaginable only a few years ago.

"By eliminating any physical penetration into the brain, we hope to duplicate the therapeutic effects of invasive deep brain ablation without the side effects, and for a wider group of patients."

This study is very promising, and it paves the way for further research into surgery for other conditions, including epilepsy.

Currently, if epilepsy is unresponsive to drug treatment, surgery to remove the affected part of the brain might be considered in some cases. However, this is highly invasive and there are many potential behavioural / emotional side effects to consider. Not only this, but any invasive procedure carries the risk of infection and hemorrhage.

A non-invasive technique to remove epileptic foci would be a fantastic breakthrough, as it could potentially remove many of the risks associated with epilepsy surgery.

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