I discuss issues pertaining to the practice of neuropathology -- including nervous system tumors, neuroanatomy, neurodegenerative disease, muscle and nerve disorders, ophthalmologic pathology, neuro trivia, neuropathology gossip, job listings and anything else that might be of interest to a blue-collar neuropathologist.
Friday, January 26, 2018
Today's Google Doodle Honors Neurosurgeon Wilder Penfield
Today's Google Doodle celebrates the 127th birthday of Canadian neurosurgeon Wilder Penfield, who developed a groundbreaking epilepsy treatment called the Montreal Procedure.
In the 1930s, while working as a neurosurgeon at the Montreal Neurological Institute at McGill University, Penfield had a patient who reported smelling burned toast just before her seizures. He realized that he could use that hallucinatory scent to pinpoint the part of the brain that was seizing - and put a stop to it.
With the patient wide awake, but under local anesthetic, he used electrodes to stimulate parts of her exposed brain, asking her what she felt, saw, heard, or smelled each time. When she declared, "I smell burned toast!" Penfield determined that he must have found the center of her epilepsy. It worked; he removed a small piece of brain tissue from the spot, and the woman never had a seizure again. Penfield and his colleagues published a paper on the method in 1951, and since then it has helped bring relief to many epilepsy patients.
Of course, there are many different kinds of epilepsy, and the Montreal Procedure doesn't work on all of them, but it made a significant difference for a large number of people. And Penfield performed the procedure more times than any other neurosurgeon working at the time. In the process, he assembled a detailed map of where sensory and motor functions happen in the brain, and which areas of the brain receive input from, or send output to, which parts of the body. He also discovered that using an electrode to stimulate the temporal lobes, in particular, can produce very vivid sensory memories - such as the smell of burned toast.
Penfield died in 1976, after a lifetime spent doing what he described as "the best way to make the world a better place."