Now, fifteen years later, U.Va. neurosurgeons have treated nearly 5,000 patients from around the nation with the Gamma Knife for a variety of brain diseases without making a single large incision in the skull. U.Va. is also on its second Gamma Knife instrument.
"With experience comes a higher degree of technical success and fewer complications," said Dr Neal F. Kassell, professor of neurosurgery and one of three Gamma Knife experts at U.Va. "Patients know that when they come to U.Va. to have this type of surgery, they're getting the best possible chance of a cure."
The Gamma Knife, technically called stereotactic radiosurgery, allows surgeons to repair the brain without a scalpel, decreasing the pain, trauma and risks of open surgery such as hemorrhage, leaking cerebrospinal fluid and infection.
"The Gamma Knife uses 201 highly-focused beams of a radioactive isotope, Cobalt 60, to produce biological effects on brain tissue," explained Dr. Ladislau Steiner, director of the Lars Leksell Gamma Knife Center at U.Va. and a professor of neurosurgery and radiology. "The blades of the Gamma Knife are actually those beams of radiation specially programmed to target a lesion in the brain. This technique has revolutionized neurosurgery." Steiner helped Swedish inventor and physician Lars Leksell develop the Gamma Knife system in the 1950's and 60's and has 35 years of experience on the instrument.
Today, about thirty percent of Gamma Knife treatments at U.Va. are for cancer that has spread, or metastasized, to the brain. The overall success rates, according to data compiled by the department of neurosurgery, are encouraging.