Laser ablation surgery now available for kids with epilepsy, brain tumors

Laser ablation surgery can take just minutes to complete and most patients go home the following day.

Norton Children’s Hospital has joined an elite group of pediatric hospitals with a real-time, thermal imaging and laser system to perform laser ablation surgery for epilepsy, uncontrollable seizures and deep brain tumors.

The technology, called Visualase, allows doctors to perform MRI-guided laser ablation surgery, which is less invasive and in most cases has a much shorter recovery time than opening the skull, currently the most common approach to brain surgery. Laser ablation requires a hole in the skull about the size of a pen top, which can be closed with a single suture. The surgery usually takes minutes to complete and most patients go home the following day.

“This approach allows us to much more safely get to deep targets and difficult-to-reach lesions in the brain,” said William C. Gump, M.D., pediatric neurosurgeon at Norton Children’s Neuroscience Institute, affiliated with the UofL School of Medicine. “It’s an important next step in treating tumors and many debilitating diseases.”

Pediatric laser ablation close to home

Before laser ablation surgery, a frame is placed on the patient’s head and a CT scan orients the frame in three dimensions. Computer software plots the safest pathway to the lesion. The surgeon then inserts a laser applicator, which is about the diameter of a strand of spaghetti, and the patient is then taken to an MRI scanner to confirm the placement of the laser. After a test firing, the laser is heated to destroy the lesion.

Norton Children’s Neuroscience Institute

Offering sophisticated treatment for all types of neurological disorders affecting the nervous system and skull, including traumatic injury, hydrocephalus, brain tumors and epilepsy.

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Previously, Kentucky’s pediatric patients had to leave the state to undergo laser ablation brain surgery. Now, thanks to a grant from the Children’s Hospital Foundation, Norton Children’s Hospital joins fewer than two dozen children’s hospitals around the country to have this technology.

“Norton Healthcare prides itself on providing the most innovative treatments right here at home,” said Lynnie Meyer, Ed.D., R.N., CFRE, chief development officer, Norton Healthcare. “We’re very excited to offer this new level of care to our patients and families.”

Laser ablation experience

While the procedure is brand new for local children, Norton Healthcare has been performing laser ablation surgery on adults for more than a year. It was the first hospital system in the region to offer NeuroBlate laser ablation therapy and has completed almost two dozen procedures using that technology.

Surgery often is needed for patients with epilepsy because medications only control seizures 60 percent of the time. In the United States, about 1 million people have epilepsy that can’t be helped through medication. For high-risk patients with deep brain tumors, laser ablation makes surgery possible because the laser probe traces a narrow path to the lesion. Open surgery in these patients would be impossible because it would damage surrounding brain tissue.

“Laser ablation surgery can be performed on children as young as a year old,” Dr. Gump said.