Brain Surgery Without a Scalpel
Dustin Grinnell

Brain Surgery Without a Scalpel

John W., a retired history professor, had a lesion deep within his brain. Plagued by uncontrollable tremors, this lesion made it difficult for him to write with a pen or hold food on a fork while eating, two daily functions we take for granted every day. Like others with such brain lesions, John refused surgery due to its invasive nature, which required a surgeon to cut into his brain.

In a talk at TEDMED last December, Yoav Medan, Chief Systems Architect at InSightec Ltd. in Israel and former researcher at IBM, shares his use of ultrasound technology, not to image the brain as it’s commonly used, but instead as a form of non-invasive surgery used in combination with magnetic resonance imaging (MRI). Using pictures taken of the brain via MRI and focused beams of energy emitted from an ultrasound machine, Medan and other researchers now exploring this technology can destroy malfunctioning cells and proteins in the body, including lesions like John’s, deep inside the brain.

As part of Eureka’s CNS platform this coming July, we’re highlighting researchers’ work in brain science, specifically in the area of imaging technologies. As we will see in the first article in the series, technologies for peering inside the brain are numerous. We will look specifically at Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) and its unique ability to deliver data on the 3-pound organ’s anatomy, function and metabolic composition. In the second article, When Ambrose Met Hounsfield: The Story of CT, we’ll explore how the first imaging device, Computed Tomography (CT), was born.

In his ‘TED talk,’ Ultrasound Surgery – Healing Without Cuts, Yoav Medan tells us John W.’s story and how he underwent focused ultrasound surgery. After scanning John’s brain via MRI and locating the small lesion within his thalamus, a sub-cortical structure in middle of the brain, the doctor, with only the click of a mouse pressed “sonicate” from his computer, initiating an injection of focused energy directly at the lesion, precisely destroying the proteins and cells in the damaged area, leaving the non-affected regions unaffected.

A round of applause erupted in the crowd of ‘TEDsters’ after Medan showed John’s handwriting, which only hours after the procedure was profoundly more legible and much clearer than before focused ultrasound. The retired professor, who once had trouble performing basic functions such as eating and writing now plays golf regularly and was quoted saying that the change was “miraculous.”

Already approved for a variety of medical ailments, such as lower back pain and pain caused by bone metastases, and used currently in the fight against cancer, particularly of the breast and prostate, focused ultrasound technology is likely to be used in the future to replace a variety of now invasive surgical procedures.

Watch Yoav Medan’s TED talk here.