New life after brain surgery

An elderly Vernon man's life has changed dramatically following a revolutionary new form of brain surgery that is non invasive.

Elias Pharaon, 85, was so crippled with tremors that he couldn't write his name or feed himself. That has all changed, since he volunteered for the procedure which was performed by a team of University of Calgary physicians and researchers with the Hotchkiss Brain Institute.

The team used magnetic resonance-guided focused ultrasound (MrgFUS), a new technology that allows surgeons to access the brain without cutting the skin, or drilling into the skull.

“We are able to see the brain with real-time imaging and target a beam of high intensity ultrasound to the region responsible for tremor,” said Zelma Kiss, neurosurgeon and professor at the Cumming School of Medicine (CSM). “The patient is awake the whole time and the results are immediate.”

Pharaon had the treatment at Calgary's Foothills Medical Centre.

“I couldn’t believe the tremor in my right hand was gone. I didn’t feel anything during the procedure,” Pharaon said. “I was so happy. It’s changed my life, I feel like I can go out in public again.”

Essential tremor is the most common type of movement disorder; usually treated with medication, according to a press release.

For some, like Pharaon, the medication doesn’t work and the tremors become so severe people can no longer dress or feed themselves.

“This is the beginning of a much larger research platform,” said Bruce Pike, professor at CSM. “The idea of neurosurgery in an awake patient without breaking the skin is revolutionary. This technology may provide a new tool to study different treatment options for devastating brain diseases such as Parkinson’s disease, dementia, epilepsy and brain tumours.”

The research study is being done in collaboration with Alberta Health Services and with funding from Canada Foundation for Innovation and private donors, including from the Rob McAlpine Legacy Initiative and the Cumming Medical Research Fund.

At this point, only patients with severe medication resistant essential tremor are being treated.

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