Penn neurosurgeon marks 1,000th deep brain surgery

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    DBS probes shown in an X-ray of the skull.(Hellerhoff/Wikimedia commons)

    DBS probes shown in an X-ray of the skull.(Hellerhoff/Wikimedia commons)

    After 1,000 deep brain stimulation surgeries, a surgeon says he’s at his best when extreme focus is necessary.

    Those who suffer from Parkinson’s experience their bodies unpredictably vacillating between stiff movements to uncontrollable tremors and shudders on a daily basis. Medications do not effectively assuage the symptoms of the disease and further contribute to the erraticism of the patient’s movements.

    University of Pennsylvania neurosurgeon Gordon Baltuch offers some relief with his Deep Brain Stimulating (DBS) surgery. In fact, he’s just completed his 1,000th procedure. He describes the process in an interview with The Pulse:

    “We take a simple wire and place it in a structure deep in someone’s brain, a structure about the size of a Rice Krispy. We connect that wire to a battery and we put electricity through that battery.”

    The surgery itself is a grueling six to eight hour process. During the first few hours of the procedure, the patient dons a stereotactic frame, a ” very medieval” box with two pins in the front and the back. An MRI is taken and each section of the brain is placed on a 3D coordinate.

    Using the MRI as a map, Dr. Baltuch establishes a target location for the brain based on observations and past investigations in neuroscience. Next he determines how to best bring the wire to the desired location. Now comes the difficult part, getting the wire into the patient’s brain and correctly placing the electrode.

    Despite the demands of conducting the operation, Baltuch thrives in an environment that requires extreme focus. “I am always most comfortable in life when I am in the operating room,” he admits.

    DBS is a procedure designed with a very specific patient in mind, but when things go right, the results can transform a life.

    “They usually get an extra four to six hours of good time in a day,” Dr. Baltuch explains.

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