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UAH neurosurgery program boosted by Gamma Knife

December 4, 2018

Hundreds of patients benefiting from scalpel-free brain surgery in Edmonton

EDMONTON – About 15 per cent of all patients requiring brain surgery at the University of Alberta Hospital (UAH) over the past year were able to undergo a painless, scalpel-free procedure in the facility’s state-of-the-art Gamma Knife suite.

To date, about 250 patients from across Alberta and western and northern Canada have benefited from the Scott & Brown Families Advanced Imaging and Gamma Knife Centre, which opened last December. The $17.2-million suite – fully funded by community donors through the University Hospital Foundation (UHF) – enables the radiosurgery team to deliver a highly focused dose of radiation to treat a wide range of disorders, including certain tumours and lesions.

“The Gamma Knife has helped to provide better care for Albertans by reducing pain, reducing risk and improving patient outcomes,” Health Minister Sarah Hoffman says. “This new innovative technology also ensures our health system remains cutting edge and poised for the future needs of Albertans.”

Traditional neurosurgery can require extended hospital stays, including time in intensive care, and is still required to treat most tumours and lesions due to their size and type.

Gamma Knife neurosurgery replaces a scalpel with beams of gamma rays that are guided with surgical precision, minimizing the impact on normal brain tissues.

As such, Gamma Knife treatment is a gentler alternative to traditional brain surgery and whole brain radiation therapy for illnesses such as metastatic disease, a cancer that has travelled to the brain from elsewhere in the body. Approximately half of the referrals in the first year of Gamma Knife operation have been from the Cross Cancer Institute.

Gamma Knife treatment can also be beneficial for individuals with blood vessel malformations, severe facial pain and certain movement disorders.

“We have patients with lesions or malformations in the brain that may have previously required multiple surgeries and in-hospital stays – but now many patients are able to walk in for Gamma Knife treatment and be home the same day in time for dinner with their families,” says Dr. Keith Aronyk,co-director of the Gamma Knife Unit at the UAH.

Mona Nashman received Gamma Knife treatment last December when the suite became operational. The 61-year-old St. Albert woman had a dime-sized brain tumour that was causing debilitating migraines on a weekly basis. She was resistant to have traditional brain surgery to remove it since its proximity to her facial nerve could result in nerve damage and hearing loss.

“I am so grateful this technology and expertise is available in Alberta,” says Nashman. “It is incredible to think I had Gamma Knife brain surgery in the morning and was able to spend time with my grandkids the same evening. I haven’t had a migraine since the treatment. For me, it is nothing short of a miracle.”

Each Gamma Knife patient receives a tailored treatment plan developed by a team comprised of a neurosurgeon, a radiation oncologist, and a medical physicist. The plan is carried out with the support of radiologists, diagnostic imaging technologists, radiation therapists and nurses from the UAH and Cross Cancer Institute.

Treatment time can last between 30 to 90 minutes, depending on the size of the tumour or lesion being treated. Most patients return home the same day they receive the treatment and resume normal activities within one to two days. The virtual scalpel leaves no external wound, thereby preventing a risk of infection.

The UHF has raised more than $52 million in cash and pledges since launching the Brain Centre Campaign in 2011, and has recently committed an additional $12 million to support a new, future neuro intensive care unit at the UAH.

“Thanks to amazing community support, we’ve been able to make incredible investments in brain care. The Gamma Knife and the 3T MRI (which guides the gamma rays) are some of the most advanced pieces of equipment in the world,” says Jim Brown, Chair of the University Hospital Foundation Board. Brown and Guy Scott are also co-chairs of the Brain Centre Campaign.

AHS President and CEO Dr. Verna Yiu says the Gamma Knife suite has made a tremendous impact on the neurosurgery program at the UAH.

“Thanks to the strong partnership with the University Hospital Foundation and site leadership at the UAH, Albertans are accessing the best available brain care in the world,” Dr. Yiu says.

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.

For media inquiries, contact:

Sharman Hnatiuk
AHS Communications
780-863-0629

Jamie Bliss
University Hospital Foundation
780-991-0973