SUN Conference Touches the Brain—and Heart

Pictured is Dr. Michael DeBakey’s operating room at the Houston Medical Center. Photo taken by Dr. Sean Lavine during his visit.

Each year, a group of our neurosurgeons leaves New York for a few days to attend The Society of University Neurosurgeons (SUN) conference, where they collaborate with and learn from neurosurgeons from all over the world. SUN comprises more than 100 neurosurgeons from academic medical centers inside and outside the United States.
The conference is held at medical universities, with the location changing each year. To promote international friendships and to gain new perspectives, the meeting is held outside the United States in alternate years. International meetings have been held in Turkey, Spain and China. Last year, our neurosurgeons journeyed to South Africa and had the privilege of visiting the operating room where Dr. Christiaan Barnard performed the first successful human heart transplant.  
This year, neurosurgeons Dr. Sean Lavine, Dr. Michael Kaiser and Dr. Michael B. Sisti from Columbia University Irving Medical Center/NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital traveled to Houston. And just as at past conferences, their visit was packed with discussions, presentations and scholarly lectures, all aimed at bettering the field of neurosurgery
Dr. Sisti, Director of the Gamma Knife Center, was one of the lecturers, and he shared Columbia’s experience with the Leksell Gamma Knife Icon, the latest in Gamma Knife technology. Gamma Knife is a noninvasive procedure that involves concentrating gamma radiation on a specific area in the brain to treat problems including brain tumors and arteriovenous malformations, among other conditions.
The Gamma Knife Center upgraded to the Icon system last year because it provides patients with more options. The Icon system offers certain patients a face mask option to keep their head still, and it can also treat a broader scope of conditions. The Gamma Knife Center has treated more than 5,000 patients to date.
While in Houston, the capital of American space exploration, attendees were treated to a special speaker: physician and NASA astronaut Dr. Michael Barratt. Dr. Barratt has worked at the NASA Johnson Space Center since 1991 and went on two spaceflights, spending a total of 199 days in space. He also practices medicine, with a focus on the medical needs of astronauts.
True to conference tradition, attendees learned about their host city’s unique medical history and achievements.
“We had the opportunity to visit the museum of Michael DeBakey, M.D., a legend and pioneer in the field of cardiothoracic surgery at the Houston Medical Center, and see his operating instruments many of which were developed by DeBakey and are still in use today,” says Dr. Lavine.
Dr. DeBakey was one of the most influential heart surgeons of the 20th century, and the museum showcases his life’s work and landmark contributions to medicine, including several inventions and surgical firsts.
The inventions on display include the pump he made at age 23 to provide continuous blood flow during surgery. Decades later, the pump would become a key component of a machine that made open-heart surgery possible.
Videos show his surgical firsts, such as when he successfully implanted a heart pump into a patient. A heart pump is a device that helps a weakened heart circulate blood in the body, and it may be implanted in patients who are waiting for a heart transplant.
The museum also displays photographs of the presidents and celebrities Dr. DeBakey treated, as well as his operating room, which is pictured here.
Amid the conference activities, Dr. Lavine had a particularly memorable moment.
“I had the honor of introducing my former junior resident and current president of the SUN, Michael Wang, M.D., for his presidential address,” he says.
Our neurosurgeons return from each SUN conference with new insights and strengthened relationships with colleagues, and this year’s conference was no exception.
Read about our neurosurgeons’ experiences at previous SUN conferences in the following articles:

Learn more about the neurosurgeons who attended the SUN conference on their bio pages below:

  • Dr. Michael Kaiser
  • Dr. Sean Lavine
  • Dr. Michael Sisti

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