Gamma Knife Technology

In the 1950s, Swedish professors Lars Leksell, professor of neurosurgery at the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm and radiation biologist Borje Larsson of the Gustaf Werner Institute, Uppsala University, began to investigate combining radiation beams with stereotactic (guiding) devices capable of pinpointing targets within the brain.

By 1967, these radiosurgical pioneers arranged for construction of the first Gamma Knife device using cobalt-60 as the energy source. Leksell termed this new surgical technique “stereotactic radiosurgery.” The prototype unit, used for 12 years in Sweden, was specifically designed for functional neurological surgery, that is, for radiosurgery of patients with pain, movement disorders, and even certain behavioral disorders that were not responsive to conventional psychiatric treatment.

Realizing the potential of stereotactic radiosurgery for eliminating brain tumors, Professor Leksell and his colleagues built a second Gamma Knife in 1975. It was installed at the Karolinska Institute and became an integral part of the neurosurgical service there.

The Gamma Knife was first introduced in the United States at UPMC Presbyterian in 1987. At the time, it was only the fifth unit in the world. In 1996, UPMC Presbyterian became the first hospital in the United States to house two Gamma Knife units. In September of 2007, the newest generation Gamma Knife unit, Perfexion, entered service at UPMC Presbyterian. Center for Image-Guided Neurosurgery director L. Dade Lunsford, MD, participated on the design team for this unit.

The UPMC Department of Neurological Surgery’s Gamma Knife units represent the culmination of advances in bioengineering, robotics and radiation physics. Current units have an improved bed design, exceptionally precise engineering, variable beam diameters, and advanced software and robotics that allow greater access for targeting tumors.

Over 12,000 patients have undergone Gamma Knife radiosurgery treatment at the University of Pittsburgh Center for Image-Guided Neurosurgery. The center also plays hosts to number of Gamma Knife training courses throughout the year further estabishing it as a leader in the treatment, education and research.