Gamma Knife suite opens at University of Alberta Hospital

November 15, 2017

Technology enables surgeons to perform brain surgery without making an incision

EDMONTON – Albertans now have improved access to painless, scalpel-free brain surgery for certain conditions with today’s opening of the Gamma Knife at the University of Alberta Hospital.

The Gamma Knife, fully funded by community donors through the University Hospital Foundation, delivers a highly accurate dose of radiation to certain tumours and other lesions while minimizing the impact on the patient's normal brain tissues. The highly focused beams of gamma rays are guided with surgical precision, without a scalpel and without the usual risks of open neurosurgery.

Dr. Samir Patel, Radiation Oncologist at the Cross Cancer Institute; Jan Wasylyshyn, Gamma Knife patient; and Dr. Keith Aronyk, AHS Zone Clinical Department Head of Neurosciences; pose in front of the new Gamma Knife Icon

“The Gamma Knife means more Albertans will be back with their families sooner, thanks to this incredible non-invasive technology,” says Minister of Health Sarah Hoffman. “The ongoing work through the Brain Centre Campaign shows how much we can accomplish when we work together to create better health outcomes.”

Traditional neurosurgery involves a surgical incision through the scalp so surgeons can remove tissue, fix tissue, treat a leaking aneurysm or drain blood or infection. Surgeries can take eight hours and patients often require extended hospital stays, including time in intensive care.

In contrast, the Gamma Knife, which is approximately the size of an MRI or CT scanner, provides painless treatment that involves no cutting. The virtual scalpel leaves no external wound, thereby preventing risk of infection. The treatment is planned and provided by an interdisciplinary team of staff and physicians from the University of Alberta Hospital and the Cross Cancer Institute, including neurosurgeons, radiation oncologists, medical physicists, radiologists, diagnostic imaging technologists, radiation therapists and nurses. Treatment time can last between 30 to 90 minutes, depending on the size of the tumour or lesion being treated.

“Access to the Gamma Knife means we can provide the safest and most effective care for patients with brain conditions such as brain tumours, blood vessel malformations, severe facial pain and certain movement disorders,” says neurosurgeon Dr. Keith Aronyk, the AHS Zone Clinical Department Head of Neurosciences.

Most patients will return home the same day they receive the treatment and resume normal activities within one to two days. Approximately 300 patients from across Alberta and western and northern Canada are expected to receive Gamma Knife treatments at the hospital annually.

In 2011, Jan Wasylyshyn of Edmonton travelled to Winnipeg for Gamma Knife treatment of an acoustic neuroma, a benign tumor that develops on the nerve that connects the ear to the brain.

It was causing vertigo and balance issues. “I flew to Winnipeg on a Tuesday, had my procedure the next day and was back in Edmonton on the Thursday,” says Wasylyshyn. “Thanks to the Gamma Knife, I was back to work quickly, able to attend my son’s graduation the following week, and back to the day-to-day of my regular life.”

The Gamma Knife completes the Scott & Brown Families Advanced Imaging and Gamma Knife Centre, which includes the first 3T MRI (Magnetic Resonance Imaging) for outpatient diagnosis and care at the University of Alberta Hospital. The crisp and clear images taken with the 3T scanner provide pinpoint guidance for delicate surgeries and advanced procedures including Gamma Knife radiosurgery. Since being installed 13 months ago, the 3T MRI has been used for more than 4,400 exams.

Donors to the University Hospital Foundation’s Brain Centre Campaign fully funded the centre, contributing $17.5 million towards the purchase of the 3T MRI and Gamma Knife and the renovation of the program area, including a leadership gift from Jim and Sharon Brown and Guy and Shelley Scott.

“The completion of the Scott & Brown Families Advanced Imaging and Gamma Knife Centre marks a major milestone in the Brain Centre Campaign,” says Joyce Mallman Law, President of the University Hospital Foundation. “Thanks to our very generous donors, our expert healthcare teams can provide even more precise diagnosis and treatment for brain patients cared for at the University of Alberta Hospital Brain Centre.”

Wayne Gretzky, who joined the Brain Centre Campaign last month as honorary chair, agrees.

“The Brain Centre is close to my heart because of my dad and millions of other Canadians who live with brain conditions,” says the NHL’s all-time leading scorer. “We are providing hope, right here in Edmonton, because we aspire to provide the greatest possible care in the world. Working as a team we will transform the care provided to brain patients.”

Since 2012, University Hospital Foundation donors have given more than $45 million to build and equip the Brain Centre that co-ordinates care from diagnosis to surgery to rehabilitation.

“Today we celebrate the years of hard work from the University Hospital Foundation and its donors to raise the funds for this equipment, as well as the neurosurgical program and site leadership at the University of Alberta Hospital in helping the Gamma Knife become operational,” says Dr. Verna Yiu, President and CEO of Alberta Health Services. “Thanks to a strong partnership with the University Hospital Foundation, this facility remains a national and international leader in brain care.”

The University Hospital Foundation raises and manages funds to advance patient care, research and healthcare education at the University of Alberta Hospital, the Mazankowski Alberta Heart Institute and the Kaye Edmonton Clinic.

Alberta Health Services is the provincial health authority responsible for planning and delivering health supports and services for more than four million adults and children living in Alberta. Its mission is to provide a patient-focused, quality health system that is accessible and sustainable for all Albertans.

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For media inquiries, contact:

Sharman Hnatiuk
AHS Communications

Nicole Merrifield
University Hospital Foundation