URMC doctors breaking barriers with brain mapping program

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ROCHESTER, N.Y. (WROC) – Neurologists at the University of Rochester Medical Center are getting recognized around the country for brain mapping. Brain mapping is a way for doctors to treat patients.

URMC is using brain mapping to help remove tumors without reducing any brain functions. Basic electrical brain mapping has been around since the 1950s but over the past 20 years, it’s become much more advanced and precise. Brain mapping is being used to study patients with tumors before they go into the operating room.

Bradford Mahon is the scientific director for the translational brain mapping program at URMC. He said brain mapping helps surgeons get a better picture of each individual brain.

“By mapping the changes in oxygen consumption throughout the brain we’re able to infer which parts of the brain support which types of abilities in a specific individual,” Mahon said.

Mahon said a patient’s brain is mapped before surgery through functional magnetic resonance imaging. During surgery, they are woken up and asked to perform cognitive tasks. The surgeon will then trigger the brain with an electrical stimulator and observe how it affects the task. Dr. Webster Pilcher has performed several of these surgeries.

“When we stimulate in a language area the patient has trouble getting language out. When we stimulate in a motor area the patient finds against their will, part of their body begins to move,” Dr. Pilcher said. “None of this is painful. Some of my patients have told me the experience of being awake during surgery was the coolest thing they ever did.”

The next step for URMC is to share information between medical centers. Dr. Pilcher said they’ve been traveling to the top ten centers for awake brain surgeries. The goal is to create a database with brain mapping information from all these centers. He said this way, surgeons all over the country can learn from each other

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