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Leading-edge neurosurgery suite under construction at University of Minnesota Medical Center

“This surgical suite will enable us to perform surgeries that we have only begun to imagine,” said University of Minnesota Health Neurosurgeon Clark C. Chen, MD, PhD.
The development of a new neurosurgery operating suite at University of Minnesota Medical Center is part of a larger $111 million reconstruction project at the hospital.

A new surgical suite under development at University of Minnesota Medical Center will redefine what’s possible in neurosurgery and brain cancer treatment.

Called the T-suite—a name that reflects tomorrow’s technology, treatment, and training, as well as the suite’s shape—this new space is one of the most advanced of its kind in the world.

Constructed by Minnetonka-based IMRIS, the suite will have a four-room configuration that incorporates a mobile magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scanner. Three of the rooms are operating rooms, while the fourth will be used for diagnostic imaging. The scanner can travel to each of the T-suite’s operating rooms on demand, and can be used in real time during surgery to guide neurosurgeons’ work.

Though similar MRI surgical suites exist, the T-suite is the first in the world to be designed for three separate kinds of surgery with real-time imaging using a 3-Tesla magnet, which is the most sophisticated intra-operative imaging currently available for patients. This new capability will revolutionize neurosurgical patient outcomes, according to University of Minnesota Health Neurosurgeon Clark C. Chen, MD, PhD, who also serves as the chair of the neurosurgery department at University of Minnesota Medical School.

“To see the real-time results of our surgery is a dream come true for surgeons and a giant leap forward in our ability to personalize surgery to meet the specific needs of the patient,” Chen said.

A $111 million renovation project is underway at University of Minnesota Medical Center. Learn more about construction—and what it means for patient care.

Revolutionizing neurosurgery

In traditional brain cancer surgery, neurosurgeons removing a brain tumor from a patient can’t know with certainty whether the procedure successfully eliminated the entire tumor until the patient gets an MRI after the surgery is over. If the portions of the tumor remain following the first surgery, the patient may need a second procedure to take it out. The ability to conduct an MRI scan during surgery allows neurosurgeons to check their work immediately. If they spot additional tumor tissue left in the brain, they can remove it during the same procedure without the need for a second surgery.

An MRI during surgery can also improve outcomes for patients with other neurological problems, including stroke and Parkinson’s disease, according to Chen. Real-time imaging can help physicians understand how neural connectivity changes in the brain as a surgery progresses, allowing stroke or Parkinson’s disease specialists a better opportunity to tailor surgical treatment to the patient, Chen said.

The T-suite’s flexible design also allows each of the three operating rooms to be customized for different procedures. One of the T-suite’s rooms can be  customized for endovascular (catheter-based) procedures for embolization and stroke treatment, and another is can be used for laser ablation, which cannot be performed in a traditional operating room setting. This means a patient undergoing a complex, multi-stage procedure can move from room to room for each stage of the surgery. Some patients will only need to undergo anesthesia once, rather than multiple times, and can have each stage of their treatment completed on the same day.

Neurosurgery patients aren’t the only ones who will benefit from the T-Suite technology. Eventually, the T-suite will also be used for other surgical procedures.

A focus on safety and innovation

The T-suite’s design also emphasizes safety.

“The magnetic field of an MRI scanner is 20,000 times greater than the Earth’s own field,” Chen said. For that reason, all metal items or surgical tools need to be removed from the operating room prior to MRI use. Operating room teams will undergo specialized training, then work to establish reliable routines and checks to ensure safety during each procedure.

“State-of-the art surgeries require specialized equipment, such as an endoscope, that can be potential hazards in an MRI suite,” Chen said. “The T-suite is designed to accommodate this equipment and optimize patient safety.

The T-suite technology will also help advance leading-edge medical research conducted by experts at the University of Minnesota’s Center for Magnetic Resonance Research, according to Radiologist Charles Dietz, MD, who is also the chair of the radiology department at University of Minnesota Medical School.

“We have world-class MRI research expertise at the University of Minnesota,” Dietz said. “The center’s physicists and researchers will partner with surgeons to develop new innovations and procedures that will greatly benefit surgical patients.”

The potential to move the field forward is also exciting for Neurosurgeon Clark C. Chen.  

“While I am enormously excited about the T-suite’s potential, I would be disappointed if I’ve predicted everything we can do with it,” Chen added. “In the end, this suite gives us a canvas upon which we can paint human imagination and innovation onto the neurosurgery of tomorrow.”