Gamma Knife Technology Development

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 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 17,000 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 establishing it as a leader in the treatment, education and research.

Evolution of the Gamma Knife at UPMC

1987: Presbyterian University Hospital installed the Gamma Knife model U, the first ever 201 Cobalt Source Gamma Knife in North America. At the time, it was only the fifth unit in the world

1990: The spectrum of indications increased, and long-term Gamma Knife radiosurgery results showed high brain tumor control rates and successful closure of arteriovenous malformations (AVMs).

1992: UPMC installed a newer version of the device, known as Gamma Knife model B. This model solved a previous issue of recharging the device’s energy sources.

1996: A third version of the Gamma Knife, which used robotics to successfully pinpoint the target, was installed at UPMC.

2006: UPMC installed the Gamma Knife Perfexion, a larger, fully robotic unit with more efficient dose delivery. Indications increased to include brain metastases, deep skull base tumors, and malignant brain tumors.

2016: UPMC welcomes the state-of-the-art Leksell Gamma Knife Icon. This model is equipped with an on-board CT scanner and microradiosurgery capabilities, further advancing the successful treatment of brain tumors, AVMs, and various neurological conditions.