Health Care

Research Medical unveils $3 million upgrade for radiation alternative to brain surgery

Gamma Knife Icon offers alternative option to brain surgery

Research Medical Center spent $3 million to upgrade to the Gamma Knife Icon, which will expand the types of cases it can treat with minimally-invasive radiosurgery, rather than open-skull procedures.
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Research Medical Center spent $3 million to upgrade to the Gamma Knife Icon, which will expand the types of cases it can treat with minimally-invasive radiosurgery, rather than open-skull procedures.

Research Medical Center recently found itself in a predicament familiar to many consumers: the hospital had to replace an aging appliance because the manufacturer would no longer service or produce new parts for it.

The unusual thing about Research Medical’s case was that the appliance was a Swedish-made radiation “knife” that uses gamma rays to shrink brain tumors as an alternative to open-skull surgery.

Research Medical staff have unveiled the new $3 million Leksell Gamma Knife Icon, which is scheduled to receive its first patients Monday. It’s the newest version of a machine Research Medical has used to treat 2,000 patients since 1994.

“We are by far the only institution that has the experience we have doing radiosurgery in this area,” said Dr. Jonathan Chilton, a Research Medical Center neurosurgeon who trained in Stockholm to use the original Gamma Knife.

Research Medical is not the only local institution that offers stereotactic radiosurgery, though.

The University of Kansas Health System performs advanced radiosurgery with a device called the Novalis Tx, and the Sarah Cannon Cancer Institute at Menorah Medical Center uses a device called CyberKnife.

All three blast cancerous or benign tumors and lesions with high doses of tightly targeted radiation to shrink them down and prevent them from causing brain injuries.

Menorah Medical Center and Research Medical Center are both owned by HCA Midwest Health, which runs the Sarah Cannon Cancer Institute. The Gamma Knife Icon is specifically for tumors and lesions of the brain, head and neck, while the CyberKnife can be used for other parts of the body.

The KU Health System is the only hospital in Kansas City that uses the Novalis Tx and it’s also the only institution in the area that is a National Cancer Institute-designated Cancer Center.

Chilton said Research Medical Center is the 19th hospital in the United States and the first in Kansas City to purchase the Gamma Knife Icon. He said it won’t replace all open-skull brain surgeries, but the upgraded machinery will expand the types of cases in which such surgeries can be avoided.

“They keep fine-tuning it to make it more user-friendly and more powerful,” Chilton said.

Chilton said radiosurgery treatments are especially useful for tumors that are near the base of the brain, or wrapped around nerves or blood vessels — situations that make surgery more risky.

Sometimes the treatments are combined with surgery.

Radiosurgery is not without risks, but they’re less serious than open-skull surgical risks. Potential side effects of the treatment include headaches, fatigue, nausea and vomiting, and skin irritation at the treatment site.

Bob Gilliam, a medical physicist who works at Research Medical said that with the new Gamma Knife, treatments that used to take four hours will now take one. That will be a relief for patients who have a metal frame pinned onto their skull to keep their heads still while the machine delivers computer-guided blasts of radiation to the right spot.

The new machine will also give Research Medical the option of using a specially molded mask, rather than the metal frame, for some patients.

Jeff Chung, a nurse specialist who preps patients for Gamma Knife treatments said the placing of the metal frame is often their biggest fear, but they receive a mild sedative beforehand, the pins don’t fully penetrate the skull and it’s far less invasive than traditional brain surgeries.

Open-skull brain surgeries generally require days or even weeks of inpatient recovery, but most radiosurgery patients can go home the same day, with just a few Band-Aids.

“Some patients, like the pediatric patients for example, may not tolerate a long surgery that requires intubation and a long recovery period,” Chung said. “With Gamma Knife, after the... treatment, the patient can go home and if they want to go to a grocery store or stop by a restaurant on the way home they can and they can resume all their regular activities the following day.”

Andy Marso: 816-234-4055, @andymarso