On November 30, physicians at the Gamma Knife Center at Wake Forest University Baptist Medical Center will perform Leksell Gamma Knife® stereotactic radiosurgery on one of the world’s tallest men to treat a pituitary tumor and restore his potential for a promising basketball career.
Sun Ming Ming, a 23 year-old from China, came to the United States in 2005 hoping to be drafted by the National Basketball Association (NBA). At 7’9” his prospects looked good.
Though he was eligible for the draft, he lacked stamina, strength and speed. He was diagnosed with a tumor on his pituitary gland that was responsible for his extraordinary height as well as his lack of performance. The tumor caused the pituitary gland, which is located near the middle of the brain, behind the eyes and nose, to overproduce growth hormone.
“Ming’s tumor is challenging in that it is located dangerously close to the optic nerves,” said Volker W. Stieber, M.D., the radiation oncologist who is co-director of the Gamma Knife Center. Traditional surgery last year at a California hospital removed the majority of the tumor but enough tumor tissue remained that it continues to overproduce growth hormone at a level that will ultimately be fatal if he does not receive additional treatment.
“The Gamma Knife surgery is expected to stop the abnormal hormone production by destroying the residual tumor tissue which could not be removed by conventional invasive surgery,” said Stieber.
The Gamma Knife Center at Wake Forest University Baptist Medical Center has one of the most experienced Gamma Knife treatment teams in the country at one of the nation's busiest Gamma Knife centers.
Gamma Knife radiosurgery is a non-invasive procedure in which a single, highly targeted dose of radiation is delivered through the skull to the tumor. The Leksell Gamma Knife is manufactured in Sweden by Elekta AB. The device focuses 201 beams of gamma radiation directly upon the targeted tissue, thus sparing the healthy surrounding brain tissue from radiation. The tissue is targeted with pinpoint accuracy using highly sophisticated imaging and three dimensional planning technologies.
Gamma Knife radiosurgery is most often performed as an outpatient procedure and Sun Ming Ming is expected to be released that afternoon. The effect of the treatment on stopping the production of new tumor cells is almost immediate; his doctors expect that it will take at least one year for his hormone levels to return to completely normal levels.
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Wake Forest University Baptist Medical Center is an academic health system comprised of North Carolina Baptist Hospital and Wake Forest University Health Sciences, which operates the university’s School of Medicine. The system comprises 1,187 acute care, psychiatric, rehabilitation and long-term care beds and is consistently ranked as one of “America’s Best Hospitals” by U.S. News & World Report.