UA Neurosurgeon Uses New Technology to Improve Safety and Efficiency of Brain Surgery

George Humphrey
Jan. 31, 2001


A neurosurgeon at the University of Arizona Health Sciences Center is using a new high-tech device he helped to develop called the perivascular flow probe that increases the safety, accuracy and efficiency of neurosurgical operations, such as aneurysm surgery.

An aneurysm is a weak spot on an artery wall that balloons out due to pressure from the blood. Aneurysms can be deadly: When a brain aneurysm bursts, it releases blood into the spaces of the brain, causing a hemorrhagic stroke.

"The standard treatment for an aneurysm is to surgically clip the blood vessel in the brain to stop the blood flow to the aneurysm," explained Dr. Gabriel Gonzales Portillo, assistant professor of neurosurgery at the University of Arizona College of Medicine. "The surgery can be extremely difficult because the clip could stop or reduce the blood flow of an important vessel, which then can lead to impaired mental ability, brain damage or even death," he said.

In the past, neurosurgeons relied primarily on subjective measures, such as visual inspection, to decide if the clips were properly placed, or they would order an intra-operative angiogram, a diagnostic procedure using dyes and X-rays to visualize blood vessels. While accurate, an angiogram has its risks and can add at least 60 minutes to the surgery, said Gonzales Portillo.

"The patient may develop a stroke if a vessel is occluded while waiting for the X-rays to come out," he said.

The perivascular flow probe Gonzales Portillo co-developed with a neurosurgeon from the University of Illinois at Chicago can be applied directly on the cerebral vessels surrounding the aneurysm to measure blood flow. The probe can tell the neurosurgeon almost immediately whether the clip is positioned properly or needs adjustment.

"If vessel flow compromise is detected, the clip can be repositioned within a couple of minutes," Gonzales Portillo said. "The procedure is simple, safe and reliable."

A weak spot on the wall of the blood vessels in the brain is believed to be a degenerative defect; however, the weak spot also may be caused by a genetic or congenital defect. Although cerebral aneurisms occur more commonly in adults than in children and are slightly more common in women than in men, they may occur at any age. As many as 10-15 million Americans may have intracranial aneurisms at some point in their lifetimes.

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