Gamma Knife Goes Hollywood

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  • Scripps physicians and nurses are routinely called upon for their expertise in the medical field by their patients, community organizations and the media. But now staff are lending their knowledge to a different type of medium – Emmy-winning television shows.

    Recently, Scripps La Jolla neurosurgeon Dr. Kenneth Ott was invited to Warner Bros. studios in Burbank to serve as a consultant for the weekly NBC series “ER”. Dr. Ott and Marcia Morrell, patient coordinator of the San Diego Gamma Knife Center, lent their expertise in the set construction and operation of a Gamma Knife machine.

    The faux Gamma Knife was used to treat a brain tumor suffered by one of the show’s main characters, Dr. Mark Greene. Dr. Ott was even asked to don scrubs and assist with positioning Dr. Greene on the Gamma Knife table during the taping of the Feb. 28 episode.

    According to Morrell, the producers of “ER” located the San Diego Gamma Knife Center via its Internet site ( Located on the campus of Scripps La Jolla, the center is the only one of its kind in San Diego.

    The Gamma Knife is used to treat patients with brain disorders. It is actually not a knife at all, but a medical instrument that emits 201 finely focused beams of gamma radiation.

    These beams simultaneously intersect at the precise location of the brain disorder and treat it with minimal effect on surrounding normal tissue and without the usual risks of surgery or an incision.

    The Gamma Knife can be used to treat lesions that are either inaccessible or were treated unsuccessfully by conventional surgery, chemotherapy and/or radiation therapy. The surgery maximized patient comfort, however, patients do not return to work only hours after the procedure. To do that, Dr. Greene needed the additional help of some Hollywood magic.

    By Lisa Ohmstede