History of the Gamma Knife

 By Groshan Fabiola    

Gamma knife surgery has become one of the most successful non-invasive methods of treating brain tumors and other brain disorders. The gamma knife device itself is a complex medical instrument that uses gamma radiation to target precise spots in the brain. Specifically, 201 highly focused beams of gamma radiation intersect at the targeted spot, enabling surgeons to make highly precise incisions without the risk of damaging surrounding healthy tissue.

The first successful gamma knife was constructed at the Karolinska Institute in 1967 by the Swedish neurosurgeon Lars Leksell and his team. The history of the gamma knife development dates all the way back to the 1950s with Leksell and Professor Borje Larsson of the Gustaf Werner Institute. They began researching the combination of proton beams with stereotactic devices, which theoretically would enable them to pinpoint targets in the brain. The proton beam approach, however, turned out to be much too complex and costly.

Leksell and Larsson continued their research though, and in 1967 they successfully arranged the construction of the first ever Gamma Knife device, which used cobalt-60 as its energy source rather than proton beams. The original gamma knife unit was employed for functional neurological surgeries in Sweden for 12 years. When conventional psychiatric treatment failed, patients with pain, movement disorders and some kinds of behavioral disorders were treated with the gamma knife.

A second gamma knife unit was built in 1975 and was installed in the Karolinska Institute, becoming one of the most integral neurosurgical devices there. Other units were soon built and installed in other places. In the early 1980s, there were gamma knife units in Buenos Aires, Argentina, and Sheffield, England, and then in the United States, at the University of Pittsburgh and the University of Virginia.

Today, the precision and power of the gamma knife has been tremendously improved by the advent of advanced computer technology. Gamma knife surgery is one of, if not the most successful treatment for brain tumors and can be used effectively for acoustic neuroma radiosurgery. To date, more than 400,000 patients have been successfully treated with the gamma knife device, with zero mortality rate and minimal morbidity reported.

For more resources regarding gamma knife surgery or even about treatment for brain tumors and especially about acoustic neuroma radiosurgery please review these pages.
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