When Hackensack Meridian Health merged with JFK Health in January, its already sizeable and integrated system of care expanded to include 16 hospitals, making it the largest health network in the state. This latest expansion includes the addition of JFK’s Neuroscience Institute, which specializes in cutting edge neuroscience care, education, and research.

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The Institute is known for Gamma Knife radiosurgery, advanced stroke care, clinical trials utilizing brain tumor vaccines, and gene therapy. It is the first practice in New Jersey to offer a virtual reality diagnostics tool to help neurosurgeons better visualize trouble spots as well as healthy tissue.
“We are excited to grow as leaders in neuroscience care that now reaches two thirds of New Jersey, ‘’ said Dr. Thomas Steineke, chairman of the Neuroscience Institute. “And I think the flexibility of this merger will only give us more room to grow.”

The Institute, founded in 1992, is one of the foremost neuroscience treatment centers in the tri state area, staffed by experts trained at such facilities as Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center. Its professionals include neurologists, neuro surgeons, neuro pathologists, neuro psychologists, neuroscience researchers, and other allied health professionals. The Institute offers a holistic approach to neuroscience treatment, and is equipped to address conditions ranging from stroke and aneurysm to spinal cord tumors and dementia.

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“We are eager to work with Hackensack Meridian,” Steineke noted. “Our integration into this larger system will bring excellent care and our culture of collaboration to even more state residents. And all departments are under one roof.”

Steineke, a neurosurgeon who graduated from Johns Hopkins Medical School before completing his training at the UCLA Center for Health Sciences, specializes in pediatric neurosurgery, minimally invasive skull base and intracranial surgery, and neuro oncology. Besides being chairman of the Institute, he’s the director of its open neurovascular and skull based program and its pediatric neurosurgery program.

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He is assisted by Dr. Joseph Landolfi, who serves as the Institute’s vice chair and is the medical director of neuro oncology and the Gamma Knife radiosurgery program at JFK.

“The Institute currently staffs 21 neurologists and seven neurosurgeons, covering a range of subspecialties,” said Landolfi. “We are a nationally certified Level Four epilepsy center, have been designated as an advanced comprehensive stroke center, and also have certification as an adult and pediatric sleep center. Our brain tumor center, which has been a leader in the diagnosis, treatment, and rehabilitation of patients with brain tumors, was recently recognized for its excellence.”

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Landolfi, who joined JFK Medical Center in 1998 after completing his fellowship in neuro oncology at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center, has developed a national reputation in the diagnosis and management of brain tumors. Together with a team of experts, he has developed a center nationally recognized for its diagnosis, treatment, and follow up care of brain tumor patients.

“In the Brain Tumor Center, we run a multidisciplinary conference weekly to discuss cases with our entire staff,” Landolfi said. “These conferences have become common in many hospital settings, but what’s unique about ours is that all departments are under one roof, so the meetings are fully attended. I can’t over emphasize how important this communication and interaction is. And because we are a comprehensive center, the communication doesn’t stop when the meeting is over. Doctors discuss and review patient care constantly, because we are always in each other’s presence.”

The multidisciplinary Brain Tumor Board discusses each patient’s case and tailors a treatment plan for each individual. Landolfi, who has a special interest in the treatment of malignant gliomas, particularly glioblastomas, also offers a multidisciplinary clinic for patients who need to see several specialists on one visit. At the Institute, he offers standard care as well as sophisticated clinical trials utilizing brain tumor vaccines, gene therapy, and novel treatments. He is a certified care provider for the Novocure device, an FDA approved treatment for recurrent glioblastomas. A professor of neuroscience at the Seton Hall School of Health and Medical Sciences, he also has expertise in Gamma Knife radiosurgery.

“We’re always looking for the most innovative approaches in treatment,” noted Steineke, describing the Institute’s use of fluorescent dyes in the treatment of brain tumors and the introduction of New Jersey’s first Surgical Theatre a groundbreaking virtual reality device that combines flight simulation technology with a patient’s own diagnostic scans to create a 3D, 360 degree, room scaled replica of the patient’s anatomy.

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“In advance of surgery, surgeons slip on a VR headset and see exceptionally detailed images to determine the best strategy to target pathologies, while preserving normal tissue to achieve optimal outcomes,” explained Steineke. “The technology also gives patients and their families the same visuals, so they can become more immersed in the treatment planning and decision making process.”

The Institute also has a specialized program for complex skull based tumors, an award winning sleep and concussion center, neuro muscular treatments for patients with amyo trophic lateral sclerosis and other disorders, a dementia program, and a movement disorder program for patients with Parkinson’s disease.

“There are few centers in the tri state area that are doing what we’re doing, and the fact that all of these services are located under one roof is groundbreaking,” Steineke said. “This is truly a multidisciplinary approach to care.”

“Less invasive treatment for back pain has proven to be very effective and often offers an alternative to surgery,” added Steineke. “Many spinal surgeries can now be done on an outpatient basis using only a half inch incision with the insertion of small tubes.

Both doctors agree that such innovative techniques will only expand in the future.

“Although neurosurgery is not as amenable to robotic techniques, I think that innovation will be ushered in during the next decade,” Steineke said. “Of course we use robotics for general surgery, as there is more room to work with in the belly and other areas of the body. Technology has to be more advanced in order for us to apply those surgeries to the brain, but I believe that will be a focus in the next five to 10 years.”

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Another distinctive feature of this care integration is co location with the JFK Johnson Rehabilitation Institute, a 94 bed acute rehabilitation hospital.

“Being under one roof with a full continuum of acute care rehabilitation services provides exceptional opportunities for clinical collaboration and continuity of care,” Steineke explained. “Stroke, movement disorders, traumatic brain injury, and virtually every neurological and neurosurgical condition benefits from having a multidisciplinary team working seamlessly to achieve the highest standards.”

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