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Boy, 15, has pioneering ‘sat-nav’ robot brain surgery to treat epilepsy

Billy Whitaker, 15, has undergone pioneering surgery to treat his epilepsy, after medication and conventional surgery to remove part of his brain failed.


His story will be featured on BBC Points West tonight at 6.30 pm, when  Epilepsy Society's neurologist Professor Matthias Koepp will discuss what the cutting-edge surgery means for people with epilepsy.

Neurosurgeons at Bristol Royal Hospital for Children used a new £350,000 robot - almost exactly like one of those used in car factories - to drill electrodes deep into Billy’s brain.

They located the origin of his seizures with minute accuracy for the first time using a 3D 'sat-nav' map of his brain. The robot enabled surgeons to access and remove the tiny piece of seizure-causing tissue.

Consultant neurosurgeon Michael Carter said: "There were little parts of his brain we suspected were the candidates for causing these residual seizures.

"We used the robot to implant a series of electrodes using ultra-high, sub-millimetre precision into these small areas of the brain, in order to see if his seizures were coming from them.

"In fact, we located the area absolutely beautifully using one of the electrodes and on the strength of that we took him back to theatre a week later and we removed the area of brain tissue that was defined by the examination.

"We can use the robot to define extremely safe and high precision trajectories through the brain tissue, so that we can implant a number of electrodes through tiny little holes in the skull, with little stab incisions, directly into the areas we want.

"It is incredibly well tolerated, and got a very high safety profile, and gives us very high quality recordings."

Since the operation two weeks ago, Billy has not had a seizure and medics are confident, but said "only time will tell" if it will last forever.

Billy, from Trequite, Cornwall, is still recovering in hospital but is looking forward to getting back to school and playing sports soon.

Speaking after the operation on January 21, he said: "Being seizure-free means I will be able to take part in sports like football and rugby again.

"I love playing sport and continue to play golf, but since my epilepsy diagnosis I can no longer play for teams as this often increases the number of seizures I have.

"It is exciting to be the first patient to have been treated at the hospital with this technique, especially as I and my family have travelled all the way from Cornwall.”