We often forget that modern medicine is still fairly new. In the late 1800s, and even the early 1900s, doctors were using bloodletting, enemas and purges to treat certain ailments. Surgery was often performed in the patient’s home, with little or no anesthetic, and using tools, instruments, and techniques that would be considered barbaric by today’s standards.
Although the 20th century saw advances in both surgical instruments, and surgical techniques, there were still some types of surgery that could be considered ham-fisted at best.
For example, the human brain is extremely delicate and controls every function in our bodies. Because it’s so important, it’s also encased in an incredibly durable outer shell. While that’s great for keeping the brain protected against external trauma, it presents certain difficulties if something goes wrong within the brain.
The Early Days of Brain Surgery
In the early 20th century, brain surgery was problematic because doctors sometimes had to remove large portions of the skull to perform the procedure. Opening the skull lengthened the recovery time, and it also meant and increased risk of introducing bacteria and other pathogens to the brain.
Also, there were some cases where doctors couldn’t perform surgery at all because the problem was located behind an area of the skull that was too difficult, or impossible to remove; or because it was located too close to other structures that could be damaged during the procedure.
However, by the latter part of the 20th century and the early part of the 21st, doctors like Dr. Hrayr Shahinian, discovered minimally-invasive ways to access brain tumors and other brain anomalies, which helped change the face and direction of brain surgery.
Minimally Invasive Brain Surgery
Minimally invasive brain surgery uses modern surgical technology to access the brain without removing parts of the skull. By keeping the skull largely intact, it reduces patient recovery time and reduces the risk of a hospital or surgically-acquired infection.
In his work at the Skull Base Institute, Dr. Hrayr Shahinian uses tiny endoscopes and cameras, which are inserted through small holes in the skull. The scopes are small enough to carefully navigate around delicate brain tissue and zero in on the problem area with far less risk of damage to the surrounding tissue. Using scopes and cameras also allows him to access tumors and structures which would normally be out of reach during traditional brain surgery, such as tumors in the part of brain that’s located directly behind the face.
Lasers are another valuable tool in minimally invasive brain surgery. Unlike metal blades, a laser can be made small enough to fit on the end of a scope, and they are more accurate, which means they are less likely to damage the surrounding tissue. Lasers also make cleaner, straighter cuts, and automatically cauterize the wound, meaning less blood loss. Lasers are also easier to sterilize, which reduces the risk of infection.
With the ongoing advances in minimally invasive brain surgery, patients now have access to life-saving procedures that were previously out of reach. Additionally, they have lower instances of disfigurement or complications than they would with traditional open-skull brain surgery.
Other Surgical and Medical Advances
· There are now vaccines to prevent potentially deadly and debilitating illnesses like polio, measles, whooping cough and diphtheria.
· Doctors have gotten much better at recognizing and diagnosing conditions like autism spectrum disorders, which were previously dismissed or misdiagnosed as mental retardation.
· Endoscopic procedures, MRIs, and ultrasound are now used to observe structures inside the body that were previously only accessible through surgery.
· Doctors are able to perform surgery on a fetus in the womb.
· Doctors can now reattach severed limbs, and even transplant faces.
· Doctors and scientists are currently working on using stem cells to repair spinal cord damage.
As both science and medicine learn more about the human body, and the world at large, these advances can only continue and improve the quality of life for everyone.