‘Operating room of the future’
The brain stem controls many different vital functions, including heart rate, breathing, consciousness and the various cranial nerves. Brain stem tumors grow diffusely in normal and functional brainstem tissue, making it impossible to remove them with surgery. It is also impossible for drugs to enter the brain directly from the bloodstream.
The new robot arm will be used to take navigated biopsies from tumors deep in children’s brains, such as brain stem cancer. In future, medication could also be administered directly into these deep-lying tumors with the robotic system, hopefully leading to a more effective treatment with fewer side effects. Clinical studies are planned with experimental drugs that can better reach tumor cells with the robot arm and then target them.
With the robot arm, the Princess Máxima Center is realizing a new building block for the operating room of the future. The robot arm is expected to be put into use by the neurosurgeons at the Princess Máxima Center early next year.
Nail polish fundraiser LAK. by Tijn
Since 2007, the Semmy Foundation has been committed to fundraising in aid of research into childhood brain stem cancer. It will finance the new robot arm with the proceeds from the LAK. by Tijn nail polish fundraiser from 2017.
Tijn Kolsteren (2010-2017) became known in December 2016 with his ‘Polish by’ campaign for 3FM Serious Request’s ‘Glass House’ (Glazen Huis). After that, he wanted to start one more initiative for children who, like him, were fighting brain stem cancer - and his dream was to launch his own nail polish brand. This resulted in the LAK. by Tijn fundraiser for the Semmy Foundation.
By buying Tijns nail polish en masse, the Dutch public helped the Semmy Foundation raise the necessary money to bring a robot to the Netherlands, with which incurably ill patients can undergo a treatment study, which hopefully will have the same positive results as in the laboratory. Tijn died in 2017 seven days before his seventh birthday from DIPG, a form of brain stem cancer. His efforts raised nearly 1.2 million euros with the aim of purchasing a robot for local treatment of DIPG.
Most suitable robotic system
In the meantime, the Princess Máxima Center has conducted thorough research into the most suitable robotic system. The center is now opting for a very advanced system that is compatible with its existing MRI-controlled neuro navigation. The robotic arm helps the neurosurgeon to navigate accurately, increasing the precision and efficiency of the operation. In addition to brain stem cancer, the robot arm can also be used in operations for children with other brain tumors.
In the Netherlands, 150 children are diagnosed with a brain tumor every year, 10 of whom have a tumor in the brain stem. As yet, there is no cure – and most children with brain stem tumors die within a year of diagnosis. After five years, fewer than two percent of children are still alive.
Dr. Dannis van Vuurden, pediatric oncologist and principal investigator at the Princess Máxima Center for pediatric oncology, said:
‘We are extremely grateful that, with the support of the Semmy Foundation, we will soon be able to use ‘Tijn’s Robot’. This robot is a huge boost for the treatment of brain stem tumors, of which we still have to say that a cure is not possible.
‘Deep-lying tumors such as those in the brainstem are difficult to reach with therapies, which are stopped by the so-called blood-brain barrier. Being able to administer drugs and other therapies directly into the tumor using the robotic arm offers enormous promise. Our new robot arm gives hope that we can really make a difference for children with brain stem cancer or other brain tumors and their families.’
John Emmerik and Nicole Bakker, parents of Semmy* and founders of the Semmy Foundation, said:
‘Delivering medicines directly into brain stem tumors, that's what we had in mind with our foundation from the start. We already wanted to explore this option with Semmy. It’s very rewarding to now donate this new robotic arm, and to take an important step together with the Princess Máxima Center to finally create a possible treatment for brain stem cancer.’
Prof. Dr Eelco Hoving, clinical director at the Princess Máxima Center for pediatric oncology, said:
‘Where three quarters of children with cancer are now cured, the prognosis for children with a tumor in the brain stem has not improved for decades. With our new robot arm, we will be able to take better biopsies and more closely monitor the progress of the disease. The new system also offers exciting prospects for research to develop new types of treatments.’
Jolanda and Gerrit Kolsteren, parents of Tijn, said:
‘We are proud of the developments and possibilities that have been made possible by Tijn’s nail polish campaign. Tijn wanted to help others. The purchase of the robot arm ensures that he still doing this, indirectly. We hope that the robot arm will contribute to a treatment for brain stem cancer, so that a cure is possible in the future. The loss of your child is unbearably great, and we hope that others will be spared this suffering.’