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Skull Base Institute Backgrounder

"This is not, ‘just a job’. Nor, is it a profession...this is a passion."
              -- Skull Base Institute Founder/Director Hrayr K. Shahinian, MD, FACS

Brain perhaps the most difficult and perilous subspecialty in the field of medicine where surgeons are required to maintain a steady hand and always be precise because even a smidgen of error can result in permanent and devastating results for the patient. Interestingly enough, brain surgeons can trace their roots to ancient times as evidence recently uncovered proves that primitive Mayan and Egyptian "doctors" attempted to treat patients using eerily similar techniques to those employed by most neurosurgeons today. In this day and age of advanced medicine, why has the approach to treating brain disorders changed relatively little in 500 years save for the environment in which the procedures are conducted (sterile hospital settings) and the tools used ("state-of-the-art" surgical instruments)? Even more curious is the continued use of such procedures when advanced technology exists to access and treat disorders of the brain that are located at the base of the skull -- a location commonly thought to be inoperable simply because of perceived anatomic barriers.

The answer? Revolutionary change is being made in the field thanks to one man who has dedicated his life to promoting the use of endoscopy to treat brain tumors and other abnormalities. Hrayr K. Shahinian, M.D. FACS, has turned the medical community upside down by shunning the traditional craniotomy -- a relatively barbaric procedure that involves making an incision from ear to ear, pulling back the skin to expose the skull, sawing off the top portion to reach the brain and attempting to correct the abnormality in question. Shahinian, on the other hand, is able to treat his patients using micro-instruments to access the problem areas. He carefully inserts the endoscope through the nasal passage or via a small incision made at either the eyebrow line or behind the ear. The results are extraordinary. Patients enjoy shorter hospital stays, reduced recovery times, decreased overall risk and a superior result with fewer complications.

The result is a paradigm shift in this field of medicine and Shahinian is leading the way despite some opposition from traditionalists who are holding on to long-established practices and are resistant to change. There is a growing contingent of forward thinking "skull base" surgeons, however, who recognize the profound merits of this new approach to treatment and Shahinian is tirelessly educating this new crop of surgeons by inviting them to observe the procedures firsthand, presenting his findings at international symposiums and publishing articles and abstracts detailing these groundbreaking techniques and their extraordinary results in prestigious medical journals.

Shahinian originally formed the Skull Base Institute in New York in 1994 before relocating to Los Angeles in 1996 at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center, where he assembled a world-class team of surgeons, neurologists, endocrinologists and other specialists. In 2003, Shahinian took the institute into private practice. This unique treatment center is the first in the world to exclusively utilize advanced endoscopic technology and eschew traditional forms of surgery in treating disorders of the complex and delicate skull base region after which it is named.

To date, the Skull Base Institute has successfully treated more than 6,000 patients using its advanced endoscopic procedures and established new protocols for surgeons across the globe. As a testament to the revolutionary impact of the work being performed at the Skull Base Institute, one particularly compelling statistic stands out to distinguish the facility from nearly all others in the medical arena. Thanks to the power of the Internet to link and educate on an instantaneous and global level, more than 80 percent of the facility's referrals come from patients who, after their remarkable recoveries, make it their mission to share just how Shahinian and the Skull Base Institute performed modern-day miracles to restore their lives.

Patients hailing from across the United States and even around the globe in such far away countries as Japan, Australia, Italy and Switzerland have flocked to the Institute in their desperate quest to seek treatment for a myriad of conditions ranging from brain tumors and facial twitching caused by neurovascular conflicts to pituitary problems and a condition known as trigeminal neuralgia, where patients experience unbearable facial pain.

The Skull Base Institute's mission is not limited solely to treating patients, but also to improving medical science and technology for the good of all mankind. Shahinian and his colleagues established the Skull Base Foundation, a nonprofit organization dedicated to developing new endoscopic surgical techniques and instruments, correcting congenital craniofacial deformities in utero, researching and evaluating transplantation of fetal pituitary cells to treat various forms of tumors, and hosting educational conferences/seminars to train surgeons in minimally invasive skull base/brain surgery. As Shahinian and the Skull Base Institute team continue to raise the bar in the ever-evolving field, two things can be certain -- the world has a powerful new weapon in its therapeutic arsenal against brain abnormalities and that these revolutionary surgical procedures will finally relegate the more common and barbaric practices to the history books.

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