The very latest digital technology is now transforming the treatment of children in need of brain surgery.

Almost a decade ago, Oxford Hospitals Charity funded our Trust’s first neuro-navigation image guidance system for the paediatric neurosurgery team, affectionately referred to as a ‘brain satnav’.

At the time, it revolutionised the way brain surgery on children was performed in our hospitals, allowing surgeons to digitally track their route through the brain with pinpoint accuracy, determining the safest route through delicate brain tissue to the tumour.

Since it was purchased, hundreds of procedures have taken place, aided by this equipment. Surgeons told us that it helped them save children’s sight, speech understanding and motor function, safely improving and prolonging their lives.

But medical technology moves fast, so recently the neurogsurgery team successfully applied to the charity to replace and upgrade the equipment, building on the success of the old model, whilst also introducing many impressive new features.

Thanks to the generosity of our donors, Oxford Hospitals Charity has been able to fund this latest innovative medical equipment to operate on children with brain tumours.

Whilst the Oxford paediatric neurosurgeons are exceptionally skilled, the accuracy required to safely locate, reach and remove a tumour from a child’s brain is extremely complex.

By using this new improved neuro-navigation system, the team has an even better chance of removing more of the tumour and causing less damage to the brain, therefore minimising the risk of long-term complications. This gives our young patients the best possible opportunity for a normal adult life.

Speaking after the funding was announced, Mr Amedeo Calisto, Consultant Paediatric Neurosurgeon and Clinical Lead said: ‘This is marvellous news. We are extremely grateful to Oxford Hospitals Charity and their wonderful donors' big-hearted benevolence for funding these vital pieces of equipment.

‘Empowering the surgeons with this state-of-the-art technology has irreversibly shaped the future of paediatric neurosurgery in the Thames Valley and beyond.

‘This will allow us to push the boundaries of what is currently achievable, and develop further innovative ways to treat rare and deadly brain conditions.

'It is truly the cutting edge of modern surgical technology, fully integrable with other equipment in the operating theatre, including the Brainlab virtual reality headsets, also funded by Oxford Hospitals Charity in 2022.

‘The headsets  allow the surgical Team, in the planning stage of the operation, to visualise, in 3D, the target and the neurological structures to protect during the surgery, in the same way an airline pilot would operate would use a flight simulator before taking off with a full 747.

‘This is all a huge step forward for our service and presents an incredible opportunity to offer a treatment second to none in the world.’

The funding of £300,000 for the project also purchased a fully integrated ultrasound module, used to overlay brain scans acquired before the operation and real time images taken “as you go”, to be confident of the changing anatomy, while the resection progresses.  

‘This allows the surgeon to get real time imaging updates during a procedure which are displayed by the brain sat-nav to reduce the expected brain shift and to ensure the image guidance remains a reliable representation of the anatomical reality despite the structural changes occurring to the cerebral matter during the operation.

‘This is particularly important when checking that every part of the tumour has been successfully removed.’

Without the ultrasound module, the operation would need to end and the child be sent for an MRI. If any part of the tumour was still evident, the child would then need to undergo a second operation.

By using the ultrasound, the surgeon can ensure that the tumour is completely removed at the first attempt, to give the patient the best possible outcome with the minimum risk and operative time.

Surgeons at the Oxford Children’s Hospital started operating with the new equipment in October 2022 and are already delighted with the results.

Tamsin Rawlings, Major Gifts Manager at Oxford Hospitals Charity commented: ‘We are so grateful to the generous donors who helped fund this project. This latest equipment is considered the gold standard of care for patients and the difference it will make to so families - at the most difficult time imaginable - is simply immeasurable.’