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Surprising Science

Solving Brain Teasers With An Open Skull

What is the Big Idea?

It’s not uncommon for a patient to have a conversation with their doctor before a major surgery. But what about talking to a doctor during a procedure?

At Italy’s Le Molinette Hospital, doctor-patient communication doesn’t just take place before an operation is performed. Patients also talk during surgery, while doctors are operating on their brain. 

What is the Significance?

Once the skull is open, the games begin. 

During the operation itself, the patient is required to work alongside doctors. The patient is tested with word games that require him or her to match nouns with verbs: car with drivewater with swim. Each right answer gives a green light for doctors to continue the operation, allowing them to remove tumors, but not the healthy part of the patients’ brains.

Brain surgery operations have been performed around the world for several years now without general anesthesia. With anesthesia, there’s a chance that some parts of the brain won’t wake up again. A patient’s chances of recovery are improved when doctors forgo anesthesia.

At the northern Italian hospital, a team of neurosurgeons and neuropsychologists have improved the procedure. They began with relatively straightforward operations and then applied it to more complex surgeries. 

“Awake” surgery patients goes through a long period of preparation before their procedure. They are trained long before the surgery by getting familiar with the operation room and lying on the operation table. 

Read the full story in English or Italian

Photo courtesy of Alex Yeung/


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