First-in-the-World Procedure Is Life-Changing for Patients With Parkinson’s

December 11, 2020
Dr. VanSickle stands with the OmniTom machine

Some of the best technology in CT scanning combines with high-quality neurosurgery to change lives in the operating room at Littleton Adventist Hospital (LAH). For just over a year now, Dr. David VanSickle, neurosurgeon, has been using the advanced OmniTom CT scanner during Asleep Robotic Deep Brain Stimulation – and he was the first in the world to use this device for an operation.

In 2019, NeuroLogica, a subsidiary of Samsung who produces the OmniTom, chose LAH to be the first site in the world for this procedure thanks to Dr. VanSickle’s groundbreaking work and extensive track record of success using deep brain stimulation.

Deep brain stimulation targets symptoms most commonly found in patients with Parkinson’s disease, including tremor, rigidity, slowed movement and gait issues. It has also proven effective for patients suffering from essential tremor and dystonia whose symptoms have not responded to conventional treatments.

Using a device similar to a pacemaker, the procedure involves implanting electrodes in a patient’s brain which are then connected to a neurostimulator, or battery pack, implanted under the skin near the collarbone. The device sends impulses to the electrodes in the brain that interfere with and block the electrical signals that trigger motion disorders.

Dr. VanSickle has used deep brain stimulation for years to treat patients from across the nation who come to LAH seeking his care. Patients who

receive these devices often experience great improvements in movement, tremors and the ability to walk.

What makes the use of the OmniTom during a procedure so remarkable is the advanced technology it offers. Because there are more "slices" to the scanner imagery, with 16 instead of the 8 slices from a previous model, the OmniTom takes accuracy to a new level. The device delivers:

  • A more detailed look inside a patient’s brain with images that are twice the resolution quality of its predecessors.
  • Rapid scan time that allows the surgeon to view images immediately
  • An ultra-small footprint that means it takes up less space in the operating room.

Using the OmniTom wasn’t Dr. VanSickle’s first innovation in deep brain stimulation. In 2013, he pioneered the Asleep Robotic Deep Brain Stimulation technique at LAH.

Prior to this advancement, deep brain stimulation was effective, but not used as often as Dr. VanSickle and other neurosurgeons would have liked, because the procedure was lengthy – and it required patients to remain awake. Staying awake through many hours of brain surgery often proved to be a prohibitive source of anxiety among patients considering the procedure.

“No one would go through the surgery because it was such an ordeal,” said Dr. VanSickle. “At Centura Health, we care about the whole health of our patients – and that includes their mental and emotional well-being. The best surgery that no one wants is useless.”

Drawing on his background in bioengineering, Dr. VanSickle devised a technique to perform the procedure using imaging combined with robotic placement of the electrodes, reducing time spent in the operating room to only around two hours and significantly reducing risk of infection. The innovative procedure also allows patients to receive anesthesia, making it a much more attractive option.

Dr. VanSickle hopes that over time, more surgeons will use his technique, and more patients will see the benefit. He is now training surgeons from across the country, including neurosurgeons from Stanford Medicine, to better help those with Parkinson’s disease, which impacts up to 1 million Americans nationwide.