January 21, 2003

MEDIA CONTACT: Vanessa Wasta
PHONE: 410-955-1287
E-MAIL: wastava@jhmi.edu

Hopkins Rings in New Year With It's Own "Ball" Drop

Editors Note: The "Ball" Drop will occur at approximately 3:00 p.m., weather permitting, on Tuesday, January 21, 2003 in front of the Harry and Jeanette Weinberg Building, 401 N. Broadway on the East Baltimore Medical Campus of Johns Hopkins at the corner of Broadway and Orleans. Media crews are invited to photograph and film this event, tour the Gamma Knife unit, and interview experts.

Completion of the $4.5 million Gamma Knife Center at the Sidney Kimmel Comprehensive Cancer Center at Johns Hopkins will be marked on January 21, 2003, with the "dropping" of the spherical helmet device, the key component of brain therapy combining surgery and radiation.

At 3:00 p.m. the helmet-like device will be dropped by crane through an opening in the roof of the Cancer Center's radiation oncology facility. The "ball," once loaded with cobalt, becomes the centerpiece for gamma knife surgery -- precisely targeting radiation beams to converge on a single point within the brain. This dramatic entrance marks the beginning of a highly sophisticated technique for non-invasive treatment of brain tumors and other neurological conditions.

The gamma knife, which is really not a knife at all, uses 201 beams of highly focused cobalt gamma radiation instead of a scalpel to painlessly "cut" through and destroy benign and malignant brain tumors, vascular abnormalities, and diseased areas of the brain without harming normal, healthy tissue. It also provides an alternative for patients with tumors or abnormalities deep within the brain that cannot be reached through conventional surgery.

The gamma knife performs "surgery" using radiation emitted from cobalt sources and aimed through the helmet like-sphere to a single point. A headpiece frame attaches to the patient's head and allows precise positioning of the target site at the focal point of the radiation beams. Each individual beam provides only a relatively weak dose of radiation, but when all of the beams converge on the target site, the combination is powerful enough to destroy the abnormal tissue. Because the beam focus so tightly on the target, surrounding brain tissue remains unharmed.

Although the entire process generally takes several hours, actual treatments last about 15 minutes to an hour, depending on the size of the abnormality being treated. After the patient is fitted with the headpiece under local anesthesia with mild sedation, CT, MRI, or angiograms determine the precise location of the tumor or abnormality. The computerized treatment-planning system automatically positions the path of the beams so that they converge only on the targeted site. Patients usually return home the same day.

The Gamma Knife Center is expected to be fully operational by mid-March 2003.

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