From Inoperable to Possible: Skull Base Brain Surgery Course Presents Latest Techniques

NewYork-Presbyterian/Weill Cornell Neurosurgeons Lead Three-Day Course Demonstrating Techniques, Including Access Through Patients' Eye Orbits, Ears and Nose<br />3D Visualization Technology Helps Teach Surgeons Complex Approaches

Mar 6, 2009


The skull base is not just a simple platform for the brain but an anatomically intricate area with an array of connections necessary to the body's essential functions. Traditionally, a tumor or aneurysm in this area was either inoperable or involved significant risk. Now, new surgical techniques — including procedures done through the patient's eye orbit, ear and nose — are greatly improving patient outcomes. However, the skills necessary for it require intensive training.

NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital/Weill Cornell Medical Center recently organized a medical education course called "Surgical Approaches to the Skull Base," to train neurosurgeons and ENT surgeons in the subspecialty. Notably, course participants used a custom 3-D visualization tool to learn about the complex surgical techniques. There were 30 attendees representing 10 countries across five continents. It was the third such course organized by the Department of Neurological Surgery at Weill Cornell.

"With rapidly emerging advances in imaging, instrumentation and techniques, we are now able to access the skull base in ways never before thought possible," said Dr. Philip E. Stieg, course director, chairman of the Department of Neurological Surgery at Weill Cornell Medical College and neurosurgeon-in-chief at NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital/Weill Cornell Medical Center. "Mastering these is an integral part of providing patients with the best available treatment options and outcomes."

"In the old method, a lesion in the skull base could only be accessed from above by pushing aside the brain, something that risked neurological damage," said Dr. Antonio Bernardo, course director, assistant research professor of neurological surgery at Weill Cornell Medical College, and director of the microneurosurgery skull base laboratory at NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital/Weill Cornell Medical Center. "New skull base surgery techniques reduce this risk and improve recovery for patients. However, they require that the surgeon have a high degree of dexterity with surgical instrumentation, and a deep knowledge of the skull's complex anatomy — something our course was designed to impart."

To this end, Drs. Stieg and Bernardo offered a custom 3-D virtual-reality environment called IVD (interactive virtual dissection). Participants wore 3-D goggles during lectures and demonstrations. According to Dr. Bernardo, who developed the technology, the IVD system allows them much more time to familiarize themselves with the techniques before they perform actual dissections and surgeries.

Also participating in the event was Dr. Samuel H. Selesnick, professor and vice chairman of the Department of Otorhinolaryngology at Weill Cornell Medical College, and otorhinolaryngologist at NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital/Weill Cornell Medical Center.

The course took place Feb. 6-8 at the Palm Beach Gardens, Fla., campus of the Anspach Companies, a surgical device maker, which also sponsored the course. Additional sponsors included Zeiss AMT, Integra BrainLAB, Bracco TruVision and Stryker.

For more information, patients may call 866-NYP-NEWS.

NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital/Weill Cornell Medical Center

NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital/Weill Cornell Medical Center, located in New York City, is one of the leading academic medical centers in the world, comprising the teaching hospital NewYork-Presbyterian and Weill Cornell Medical College, the medical school of Cornell University. NewYork-Presbyterian/Weill Cornell provides state-of-the-art inpatient, ambulatory and preventive care in all areas of medicine, and is committed to excellence in patient care, education, research and community service. Weill Cornell physician-scientists have been responsible for many medical advances — from the development of the Pap test for cervical cancer to the synthesis of penicillin, the first successful embryo-biopsy pregnancy and birth in the U.S., the first clinical trial for gene therapy for Parkinson's disease, the first indication of bone marrow's critical role in tumor growth, and, most recently, the world's first successful use of deep brain stimulation to treat a minimally conscious brain-injured patient. NewYork-Presbyterian, which is ranked sixth on the U.S.News & World Report list of top hospitals, also comprises NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital/Columbia University Medical Center, Morgan Stanley Children's Hospital of NewYork-Presbyterian, NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital/Westchester Division and NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital/The Allen Pavilion. Weill Cornell Medical College is the first U.S. medical college to offer a medical degree overseas and maintains a strong global presence in Austria, Brazil, Haiti, Tanzania, Turkey and Qatar. For more information, visit and

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