Penn State neurosurgeon employs cutting-edge technologies to save lives

April 17, 2013

Dr. James Fick, a neurosurgeon with the Penn State Hershey Neuroscience Institute, knows how much difference 1 millimeter can make. The slightest movement of his scalpel during surgery can mean the difference between someone walking or not walking — or even life and death. But new surgical technologies are giving him peace of mind, allowing him to breathe a little easier.

In his operating room at Mount Nittany Medical Center in State College, Pa., Fick relies on cutting-edge tools to ensure confidence, precision and safety during his delicate procedures. Electrophysiological monitoring, image-guided technology and state-of-the-art brain mapping all aid him as he removes tumors, herniated disks and intraspinal lesions.

He explained that image-guided technology is vital for complicated brain surgeries, because the visual difference between brain matter and a tumor can be very slight (making the edges of the growth difficult to detect). A 3-D map, compiled by a computer from a set of pictures prior to surgery, can show precisely where healthy tissue ends and the tumor starts.

“Honestly, I can sleep better the night before an operation when I know I’ve done everything I can to bring a new element of safety into the procedure,” Fick added. “Most people think that neurosurgery is very cut and dry, and some lesions are that way — but others absolutely are not — which is why technology is so reassuring.”

Read the full story in the latest issue of Stream, the publication of the Office of the Vice Provost for IT. To subscribe to Stream, go to

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Last Updated April 25, 2013