Beau's 'sat-nav' brain surgery shows way forward

Surgeons have operated with electromagnetic "sat-nav" equipment for the first time on a seven-year-old boy's brain.

Beau Rendall has had the same operation five times since birth, but this time the new Medronic equipment gave extra precision, NHS Lothian said.

Beau has spina bifida, a birth defect that causes the incomplete development of the spinal cord, and hydrocephalus, a build-up of spinal fluid in the brain sometimes caused by spina bifida. During the operation last month, surgeons replaced a blocked tube, called a shunt, inserted to drain fluid from the brain.

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The new equipment uses image guidance technology to "map" the patient's brain by combining MRI, CT and fluoro-scopy to give 3D images of the child's head. The position of the surgeon's instruments can then be tracked against those images during operations.

The technique can be used on children without the need to fix pins into the head to maintain the position of the skull, making the procedure available to babies - whose skulls are too soft for the use of pins - for the first time.

Beau, from Edinburgh, had the operation at the capital's Royal Hospital for Sick Children and was the first child to undergo surgery using the technology. Bought by the Sick Kids Friends Foundation for 220,000, the equipment is in use at only one other paediatric centre in the UK.