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Tuesday, October 20th 2009

Radiation & Software

Threat Level is an interesting blog published by Wired. Every once in a while they throw out an interesting piece of medical technology. They’ve got a piece up right now about how some Gamma Knife machines have a pretty significant software bug awaiting fixing which makes the emergency stop button non-functional under certain conditions.

[W]hen the couch moved out of position during a treatment at an university hospital in Cleveland last December, staffers hit the “emergency stop” button, expecting the couch to pull the patient out of the Gamma Knife, and the radiation shields at the mouth of the machine to automatically close. Instead, according to a report eventually filed with the Nuclear Regulatory Agency, nothing happened.

“Staff had to manually pull out the couch from the Gamma Knife and manually close the doors to the Gamma Knife to shield the source,” reads the report, which states that neither the patient nor the workers were harmed. “Radiation exposure to all individuals involved with the incident was minimal.”

Gamma Knife, CyberKnife, all these proprietary radiosurgery devices are pretty incredible.

I have a pretty strong clinical interest in image guided surgery, stereotaxy and, to a lesser extent, radiosurgery. Computer aided or directed surgery is going to become the norm well before my career is over, if I have a full one, and I imagine this isn’t the last we’ve heard of ‘glitches’ and ‘bugs’. A little scary, admittedly. Still you have to imagine that the risk versus reward in this situation, and most others, very much favors the patient. I’m not sure I’d forgo life saving radiosurgery over a story like this is my point.