Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital
New Brunswick • Somerset

Doctors at RWJUH and UMDNJ RWJMS First In Tri-State to Use Innovative Laser Technology to Treat Epilepsy

March 28, 2012
Dr. Shabbar Danish, left and Dr. Stephen Wong, right, smile after a successful MR scan and earlier laser ablative surgery performed by Dr. Danish on a epileptic patient at Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital in New Brunswick on Thursday, February 9, 2012. With this surgery a surgeon can thread a fiber through a small hole in the skull, and then burn out tumors or other material. He's the first doctor in the northeast to be using this technique for epilepsy.

NEW BRUNSWICK, N.J. - Doctors at Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital and UMDNJ-Robert Wood Johnson Medical School are the first in the tri-state region and only the seventh nationally to use laser ablation, a revolutionary, minimally invasive laser technology that utilizes light energy, to treat epilepsy.

Doctors successfully performed the first procedure in December 2011 on a 61-year-old man who had been suffering from epileptic seizures since childhood.  The patient has been seizure-free since that time.

A second procedure was successfully performed in February on a 27-year-old woman who also experienced epileptic seizures since childhood. She has been seizure-free for about one month.

During the procedure, a team led by Shabbar Danish, M.D., Director, Stereotactic and Functional Neurosurgery and Assistant Professor of Surgery at UMDNJ-RWJMS, delivered laser energy through a 1/8 inch hole in the patient's skull to target the area of the brain that is responsible for causing the seizures.  As light is delivered through the catheter-directed laser probe, temperatures in the targeted area begin to rise, gradually destroying the unwanted tissue in the frontal lobe portion of the brain, leaving the surrounding areas untouched.

The entry hole through the skull is about the size of the end of a pen and requires just one stitch and a small bandage following the procedure. Only local anesthesia is used. The patient returned home one day after the procedure and remains seizure free. Doctors will continue to monitor his progress over the next several months to determine if the procedure has permanently cured his seizures.

"Because laser ablation is a much less invasive approach than traditional surgery to treat epilepsy, it reduces the risk for many post-surgical complications such as infections, bleeding, speech difficulties and vision problems," Dr. Danish notes. "The recovery time is much shorter and in these cases, the patients returned home within one to two days."

According to Stephen Wong, M.D., an Assistant Professor of Neurology at UMDNJ-RWJMS and RWJUH who specializes in epilepsy and neurophysiology, the technology is an effective surgical alternative that provides new hope for epileptic patients whose seizures cannot be controlled with medications.

"As our first patient's seizures became more severe and frequent, he began to suffer from seizure-related psychotic episodes, which led to antipsychotic drugs and further medication-related side effects," Dr. Wong explains.  "Due to his multiple medical complications, he was a poor candidate for the standard surgical resection. Without the laser procedure, the patient's quality of life and independence would continue to diminish over time."

Dr. Wong estimates that three million people suffer from epilepsy in the United States. Of that number, there are approximately 300,000 individuals who may require surgery to treat their seizures and who could potentially benefit from laser ablation.

Produced by Visualase, laser ablation is the latest addition to RWJUH and UMDNJ-RWJMS' growing expertise and capabilities in the division of neuroscience. The Neuroscience Department is dedicated to the research and treatment of a wide range of neurological disorders.

To learn more and view a photo gallery of the procedure, please visit nj.com.

RWJUH and UMDNJ-RWJMS serve as a major referral center for patients with movement disorders, including Parkinson's disease, progressive supranuclear palsy and dystonia, epilepsy, stroke, multiple sclerosis, neurogenetic disorders, neuromuscular disorders, such as ALS (Lou Gehrig disease) and myasthenia gravis, nervous systems disorders affecting vision, including optic neuritis, and neurobehavioral disorders such as dementia.  For more information about laser ablation treatment for epilepsy, please visit rwjuh.edu/laser.

For information or a referral to a physician affiliated with RWJUH, please call 1-888-MD-RWJUH.

About Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital

Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital (RWJUH) is a 965-bed academic medical center with campuses in New Brunswick and Somerville, NJ. Its Centers of Excellence include cardiovascular care from minimally invasive heart surgery to transplantation, cancer care, stroke care, neuroscience, joint replacement, and women’s and children’s care including The Bristol-Myers Squibb Children’s Hospital at Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital (www.bmsch.org). As the flagship Cancer Hospital of Rutgers Cancer Institute of New Jersey and the principal teaching hospital of Rutgers Robert Wood Johnson Medical School in New Brunswick, RWJUH is an innovative leader in advancing state-of-the-art care. A Level 1 Trauma Center and the only Pediatric Trauma Center in the state, RWJUH’s New Brunswick campus serves as a national resource in its ground-breaking approaches to emergency preparedness.

RWJUH has been ranked among the best hospitals in America by U.S. News & World Report seven times and has been selected by the publication as a high performing hospital in numerous specialties. The Bristol-Myers Squibb Children’s Hospital has been ranked among the best hospitals in America by U.S. News & World Report for three consecutive years.

Both the New Brunswick and Somerset campuses have earned significant national recognition for clinical quality and patient safety, including the prestigious Magnet® Award for Nursing Excellence, an “A” patient safety rating from the Leapfrog Group and “Most Wired” designation by Hospitals and Health Networks Magazine. The Joint Commission and the New Jersey Department of Health and Senior Services have designated the New Brunswick Campus as a Comprehensive Stroke Center and the Somerset Campus as a Primary Stroke Center.

The American College of Surgeons’ Commission on Cancer has rated RWJUH New Brunswick among the nation’s best comprehensive cancer centers and designated the Steeplechase Cancer Center at RWJ Somerset as a Comprehensive Community Cancer Center. The Joint Surgery Center at Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital Somerset has earned the Joint Commission’s Gold Seal of Approval for total knee and total hip replacement surgery.