Meet Our Doctors: Edward Chang

Neurosurgeon Dr. Edward Chang specializes in advanced brain mapping methods, techniques that enable surgeons to operate on the brain while protecting areas critical to functions such as speech and movement. Thanks to the skill and dedication of Chang and his colleagues, UCSF's neurology and neurosurgery program was recently ranked fifth in the nation in the U.S. News & World Report "Best Hospitals 2014-2015" rankings.

Why did you become a neurosurgeon?

Neurosurgery has all the challenges I wanted in a career: intellectual, technical and most importantly, compassion. The brain is what makes us human. I dedicated my career to mapping the brain to make surgery safer.

What brought you to UCSF?

I did my medical training at UCSF. I stayed because the intellectual environment for neurosciences is unparalleled. At each step, UCSF is on the frontline of neurosurgery.

What made Vanessa Ross's case stand out?

Vanessa's condition was very rare. She had an abnormality, a small hole, in the base of her skull. Where her brain pressed against the hole, a small bit of tissue had malformed to fill the gap.

We measured her brain activity and found that her seizures were originating from the area of the brain near the hole, which is where language and memory processing happen. Our challenge with Vanessa was to remove the small bit of tissue that was filling the hole without hurting her language skills.

How did you tailor your approach for Vanessa?

In getting to know Vanessa, she told me that acting was her livelihood but the seizures were making it hard for her to do her job. She had trouble remembering people's faces and names. Some of the seizures were also quite dangerous.

When the topic of surgery came up, she told me how much her appearance mattered when it came to getting new projects. She explained that she couldn't show up on set with a shaved head or noticeable scars. So I planned the surgery to be as minimally invasive as possible. We only shaved a small patch of her hair, we made incisions that wouldn't be noticeable, and we used a special skin closure to minimize scarring. Because we took such a minimally invasive approach, the physical access I had to her brain was 10 times smaller than usual, but it was just enough to make the surgery a success.

In the end, we invented a whole new approach to the surgery. She stopped having seizures and, within a couple of weeks, was back to work.

How did Vanessa's case exemplify your work?

Our goal is to really get to know our patients. We want to know their hopes and dreams. We want to understand what it means for them to get their seizures under control. We want to help them live their fullest lives. As a surgeon, my challenge was finding the least invasive and most effective approach. I wanted to push the envelope without sacrificing safety.

The small hole in Vanessa's skull made her an unusual case but, in every other way, our approach to Vanessa was very typical. We wanted to help her follow her dream.

Interviewed July 2014 by Catherine Guthrie.

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Related Information

UCSF Clinics & Centers

Neurology and Neurosurgery

Epilepsy Center
400 Parnassus Ave., Eighth Floor
San Francisco, CA 94143
Phone: (415) 353-2437
Fax: (415) 353-2837

400 Parnassus Ave., Eighth Floor
San Francisco, CA 94143
Phone: (415) 353-7500
Fax: (415) 353-2889

Movement Disorder and Neuromodulation Center
1635 Divisadero St., Suite 520
San Francisco, CA 94115
Neurology: (415) 353-2311
Neurosurgery: (415) 353-2071
Fax: (415) 353-9060

Trigeminal Neuralgia
400 Parnassus Ave., Eighth Floor
San Francisco, CA 94143
Phone: (415) 353-2892
Fax: (415) 353-2898

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Edward Chang
Dr. Edward Chang,