Leading the Charge in National Brain-Mapping Initiative Q and A with Steven Brem, MD

As humans we can identify galaxies light years away, we can study particles smaller than an atom, but we still haven’t unlocked the mystery of the three pounds of matter between our ears,” said President Barack Obama in 2013 as he unveiled the BRAIN initiative, a collaborative effort to map the human brain and better understand it.

Steven Brem“This initiative sparked the interest of Steven Brem, MD, professor of neurosurgery at Penn Medicine, a pioneer in the field of brain mapping. He and his colleagues dove into this challenge by attempting to uncover the blueprint of the human brain by using advanced imaging. This research ultimately led to improved surgical outcomes for patients with brain malignancies.

Dr, Brem is a long-time Brainlab customer and the Brainlab team recently caught up with him to learn more about his background, practice and thoughts on educating patients.


Q: What is your background?

A: I have devoted my career to patients with brain tumors. I have performed over 4000 brain tumor surgeries and continue to serve on multiple boards for brain tumor associations.

I have extensive experience with DTI (diffusion tensor imaging, a version of an MRI that is useful for imaging the brain’s white matter), which began at Moffitt Cancer Center. Here we developed a rapid method that utilizes a patented campaign with Brainlab equipment, which preserved function. We could see firsthand why DTI was so important; it allows us to see the wiring of the brain.

I brought this experience and enthusiasm to the University of Pennsylvania to a huge reception. They had already been using DTI for Alzheimer’s and other neuro diseases. I work closely with a team of radiologists led by Ronald Wolf, MD, PhD; a team of mathematicians and computer scientists led by Ragini Verma, PhD; and Luke Macyszyn, MD, chief resident in neurosurgery at Penn Medicine.

Q: When did you start using Brainlab technology?

A: Many years ago. My first case using Brainlab technology was in 2004.

Q: Why Brainlab technology? How do you feel this technology is helpful to your practice?

A: Brainlab has refined, excellent software that is advanced and robust. The support, service and training have been excellent. The technology is great for patient scan review and manipulation, as well as advanced functional planning capabilities. Brainlab iPlan® software is very useful since it provides the neurosurgeon with features to customize treatment planning for each patient.

Q: How do you educate patients and others on what you do?

A: I believe very strongly in patient education, especially before surgery. Patients are sophisticated; they read a lot! Prior to surgery, I will review the location of the tumor, review the MRI and correlate it with a 3D image of the brain, review benefits and risks, as well as potential therapies and possible shortfalls.


We are looking to further translational research in brain mapping to overcome current limitations. The best work is ahead. It’s a critical era for mapping the brain!

To learn more about Dr. Brem and his brain-mapping research please visit http://www.uphs.upenn.edu/news/News_Releases/2013/04/brem/.

Posted in: Brain Cancer Q&A