As its name implies, ‘neuro navigation’ is a technology that allows surgeons to find their way (or navigate) through complex neurological areas. In a technology-driven world, especially with specialities as delicate as neuro and spine surgery, precision and safety are key factors in assuring good surgical outcomes. Neuro navigation is an important weapon in the armoury of surgeons in these fields.
Think of a GPS which tells you your location in relation to a map of the world. Well, neuro navigation works on a similar principle, except its ‘world’ is that of the specific part of the body of the patient – brain or spine. Basically, it helps localise or pinpoint areas of interest and exploration on the ‘map’ of the brain or spine. In doing this, it helps the surgeon orient himself and then navigate (if required) his or her way through the brain or spine.
Pre-operative images (Xrays, CT Scans or MRIs) are taken after which the data derived from these images is transferred to the Neuro Navigation system. This then works as the ‘map’ on which the system navigates.
Once the patient comes into the operating room, then the area of surgery is ‘registered’ on to the system. Basically, the part of the patient’s body which is to be operated upon, is correlated to the scans. Imagine a GPS matching the physical world to a map of the world to ensure perfect location positioning. The surgeon ‘points’ to a part of the body, in the region, using an instrument linked to the system. That point is exactly juxtaposed against the same point on the scans. For example, a surgeon will touch the tip of the nose of the patient and then identify the same location on the scans (or maps) which have been fed into the system. This is done for more than one point on the region. Once the orientation is done to perfect accuracy, the neuro navigation ‘map’ is in perfect sync with the patient’s physical body and is ready to go.
Now when the surgeon begins the procedure, the system tracks the exact position of his or her instruments within the brain or spine, on a 3D map of the area. This provides the surgeon real-time feedback in the operating room so he knows the exact location of his instruments
in relation to the targeted area. This helps ensure perfect excision of tumours with minimal damage to the sensitive healthy brain tissue surrounding the affected area.
Neuro navigation can be used in any kind of brain surgery particularly in tumours to help localise various anatomical structures in relation to the tumour. It is also extremely useful in spine surgery where it may provide information about bony landmarks which are important for fixation devices to be placed into the spine. Read about how neuro navigation helped surgeons excise a tumour in our Patient Story.