When neurosurgeon Dr. Breck Jones of SIU Medicine performed a brain biopsy on a local patient earlier this month at Springfield Memorial Hospital, he had a new assistant helping guide him to the location of the suspected tumor – a robot.
The Stealth Autoguide Cranial Robotic Guidance Platform, manufactured by Medtronic, allows surgeons increased accuracy when performing procedures in the brain with real-time visualization and remote guidance. For the patient, it reduces recovery time and the risk of infection. SMH leaders say the June 8 procedure was the first stereotactic biopsy performed in central Illinois using Stealth Autoguide after the hospital recently acquired the robotic guidance platform.
“It takes away a lot of the guesswork,” Dr. Jones said. “As a surgeon, having technology like this makes me more confident in what I’m doing.”
Biopsies are performed to determine whether a lesion in the brain is cancerous. The surgeon removes a sample of tissue for analysis by a pathologist. Prior to the development of navigation technology, surgeons performing a brain biopsy calculated the suspected location of the tumor by hand using anatomic landmarks and large cranial frames – a delicate process that risked damaging crucial parts of the brain.
Today, most brain biopsies are performed using stereotactic navigation that makes locating the tumor much easier, but this technique may still require a 2- to 3-inch incision. Cancer treatment, if required, must be delayed until the incision heals.
One of the biggest benefits of the Stealth Autoguide system, Dr. Jones said, is the reduced recovery time for the patient – and the opportunity to start treatment earlier if the lesion is cancerous. Rather than a larger incision, the biopsy needle is inserted into a small hole that he likened to a “stab with a scalpel.”
“When it comes to malignant, aggressive tumors, waiting two to three weeks for the suture to heal very well could be two to three weeks of their life that [the patient] may not get back,” he said, noting that patients typically only require an overnight hospital stay after undergoing a biopsy with the robotic platform.
While this was Dr. Jones’ first procedure using the robotic platform at SMH, he has extensive experience with this equipment thanks to a fellowship in neurosurgery at Mayo Clinic. A southern Illinois native and a 2015 graduate of SIU School of Medicine, he was the second physician to complete SIU’s residency program in neurosurgery. After returning to SIU in July 2022 as an assistant professor in the Division of Neurosurgery, he began discussing the possibility of bringing a Stealth Autoguide robot to SMH. The robotic platform integrates with the navigation software already in use for brain procedures at SMH.
“This is a great example of how the partnership between the School of Medicine and Memorial Health benefits our patients,” said Chuck Callahan, president and CEO of Springfield Memorial Hospital. “The expertise that Dr. Jones gained during his fellowship at Mayo Clinic is now helping people in our area. Our surgical team is excited for the opportunity to bring this technology to central Illinois.”
While robot-assisted surgery is not new, the Stealth Autoguide system is much smaller (“about the size of a breadbox,” Dr. Jones said) and more easily maneuverable than traditional robotic surgery equipment. It’s also versatile, with many applications for brain procedures beyond biopsy. Dr. Jones and the team at SMH expect to use it in multiple procedures since the first biopsy on June 8.
“This allows us to do a lot more things a lot more safely,” Dr. Jones said.