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Brain Surgery Safety Now and in the Future: Dr. Marc Otten Talks to Westchester Magazine

To say brain surgery has come a long way is an understatement. Surgeons can fix problems in the brain and save lives in ways we barely dreamed of a century ago.

What’s even more remarkable is that surgeons can do these amazing things with a high level of safety. Our neurosurgeons constantly research, innovate and hone their skills to ensure that neurosurgery is as safe as possible.

Recently Westchester Magazine asked Dr. Marc Otten, Director of Columbia Neurosurgery at NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital/Lawrence, to talk about the future of brain surgery and some of the technological advances being used to make it safer every day.

One of these recent technological advances is the ability to link MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) images of the brain to equipment in the operating room. Dr. Otten can use this imaging to guide tiny surgical instruments through blood vessels to remove some brain tumors without making any external incisions. This way the patient is not exposed to the risks that come with opening the skull to remove a tumor.

“We have been able to use special imaging techniques (like MRI) to look inside the brain for decades,” he said. “But only recently have we been able to process this information and link it to our equipment in the operating room.”

Dr. Otten said that one of the trickiest parts about performing brain surgery is that no two brains are exactly alike. “We have a spectacular understanding of the structure of the brain, which is like opening up a computer and knowing where all the wires go,” he told Westchester.

“The wires might look like they all go to the same place, but each person is unique.” Neurosurgeons can use the latest in MRI technology to build a map of what each “wire” does in each patient’s brain. They can then use this map as a guide to remove tumors while safeguarding delicate parts of the brain that control sight, speech or motion.

Just as each person’s brain is unique, scientists are discovering that each brain tumor is also unique. “We are near a point where each person will have a unique treatment prepared exclusively for him or her,” Dr. Otten said.

As exciting as new technology and treatment options are, Dr. Otten stressed that any new technologies are used only once they have been proven safe. Surgeons consider a new treatment method or technology only when all other options have been ruled out. “We already have many options to offer patients,” he said. “When known treatments aren’t good enough, then we talk about solutions that are still experimental.”

As far as brain surgery has come in the last century, Dr. Otten thinks we’ll see many more advances over the next few decades. “One thing I learned early as a medical student, and then as a neurosurgeon, is that as much as I might think I know, there is always so much more to learn,” he said. “The way things have been going over the last 10 to 20 years, I think the possibilities are mostly up to our imagination.”

Whatever that future brings, Dr. Otten and the rest of the Columbia neurosurgery team will be at the forefront, creating better and safer ways to fight brain tumors.

Learn more about Dr. Otten at his bio page here.

Read Dr. Otten’s article in Westchester Magazine.

patient journey

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