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January 2016 Policy Study, Number 16-1


Doom and Gloom = 0, Human Ingenuity = 10

The World Hasn't Ended Yet!


Brain Surgery 1873 Sir John Erick Erichsen (1818 – 1896), the Surgeon Extraordinary to England’s Queen Victoria – certainly someone who was considered a learned gentleman of the time – said,  “There cannot always be fresh fields of conquest by the knife; there must be portions of the human frame that will ever remain sacred from its intrusions, at least in the surgeon’s hands. That we have already, if not quite, reached these final limits, there can be little question. The abdomen, the chest, and the brain will be forever shut from the intrusion of the wise and humane surgeon.”[26]  Needless to say this man, who was President of the Royal College of Surgeons of England, had a worldwide reputation, and is considered one of the “makers of modern surgery,” was wrong.  Just six years later the first successful brain tumor surgery was done, in 1879 by Scottish doctor William Macewen.  The patient lived another eight years.[27]


Today, brain surgeons operate in real-time, using advanced diffusion tensor imaging (DTI), combined with stereotactic navigation and intraoperative neuro-monitoring to find a “safe corridor” allowing them to successfully operate on areas deep inside the brain, such as the thalamus and brain stem.  These surgeries have “ramifications for not only … (the) ability to walk or talk, but also capacity to feel certain types of emotions,” according to doctors at the Cincinnati Children’s Hospital.[28]  While the doctors (and patients) there recognize and celebrate the miraculous advances of the last few years, they are not predicting that “we have already reached” their final limits and fully anticipate that in another six years, much less another century, significant additional advances in brain surgery will be made.




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