Violinist has brain surgery, fiddles throughout

Professional musician Roger Frisch played his violin during brain surgery to correct hand tremors so that surgeons could gauge its efficacy.

Michelle Starr Science editor
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Michelle Starr
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When Roger Frisch noticed hand tremors back in 2009, it was no small deal -- as a professional violinist, steady hands are absolutely imperative to his work. With shaking hands, Frisch -- who had been a professional musician for 40 years -- could no longer draw the bow smoothly across the strings of his instrument. He was diagnosed with nervous disorder essential tremor.

The solution? Deep brain stimulation, to be administered by brain surgeons at the Mayo Clinic Neural Engineering Lab. This procedure involves the implantation of what is known as a brain pacemaker, which sends electrical impulses to specific parts of the brain -- it is used to treat such conditions as Parkinson's disease, major depression, Tourette syndrome, tremors, and chronic pain.

Although Frisch's tremors might be considered relatively minor, for a concert violinist they would have spelled the end of his career.

In order to find the brain region that was causing the tremors, the surgeons had to insert electrodes into his brain, stimulating various points. But, because the tremor was so mild, the surgeons would not have been able to tell if they were hitting the optimum spot -- unless, that is, Frisch was awake and helping.

It's actually par for the course for patients to be conscious during brain surgery so that doctors can monitor their condition, but Frisch's case required something new: for him to be playing the violin. The surgical team fitted bow with a three-axis accelerometer, which allowed the team to monitor Frisch's movements in real-time. When they inserted the electrodes into his brain, they were able to gauge whether or not the stimulation was affecting the tremors.

The surgery was effective -- Frisch was once again playing with the Minnesota Orchestra just three weeks later. He can turn the pacemaker on using a controller, allowing him to play just as smoothly as he could before the tremors. The video below was uploaded by the Mayo Clinic in April of this year.

(Via ScienceAlert)