Fiddling during brain surgery

November 17, 2010

The disorder essential tremor occurs within the nervous system and causes a rhythmic shaking. What's more, essential tremor can affect almost any part of your body, but the trembling occurs most often in your hands.

About half of essential tremor cases appear to occur because of a genetic mutation. This is referred to as familial tremor. The factors that cause essential tremor in people without a known genetic mutation isn't clear. Treatment in these cases includes medication, therapy, or ultimately surgery.

ROGER FRISCH: Mr. Frisch joined the Minnesota Orchestra in 1974 and was appointed Associate Concertmaster in 1995.

Frisch was a founding member of the Minneapolis Artists Ensemble, with which he recorded an acclaimed version of the Hummel Quintet, as well as several 20th-century works. Since 1997 he has performed extensively throughout the United States and in Ukraine with the Kairos Trio. Two years ago a tremor in his right hand shook the flawless tone he'd built his career upon. Mr. Frisch concealed this issue as long as he could. His last option was brain surgery.

MUSIC DURING SURGERY: Neurosurgeon Kendall Lee and a team of engineers created a special violin for Mr. Frisch to play during surgery. They found the area of Frisch's brain sending abnormal signals and implanted two electrodes. That allowed tiny electronic pulses to be sent from a pacemaker-like device into the brain, a process called deep brain stimulation.

The surgical treatment sends electrical pulses to the specific parts of the brain signaling erroneously and calming the tremor. The sensor on the violin sent information to a computer, which told surgeons immediately if the stimulation was working.

Since the brain does not contain pain receptors, patients can be awake during surgery and do not feel pain.

The device is normally implanted while patients are under local anesthesia, but Frisch also underwent the surgery while playing his violin to let the surgeons pinpoint the exact spot to target in his brain with the pulses.

The surgical procedure Mr. Frisch underwent was not even over before his tremors eased - and he regained control of his hands.


Dana Sparks
Department Of Public Affairs
Mayo Clinic
(507) 538-0844

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