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Ringing in the New Year at Hopkins' Own "Ball" Drop

On a snowy Tuesday afternoon in mid-January, the $4.5 million Gamma Knife Center at the Sidney Kimmel Comprehensive Cancer Center at Johns Hopkins was officially complete. That's when a spherical, helmet-like device was 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 sophisticated technique for non-invasive treatment of brain tumors and other neurological conditions.

The gamma knife is really not a knife at all. It 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 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 beams focus so tightly on the target, surrounding brain tissue remains unharmed.

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




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