Innovation Fund

The Innovation Fund enables The National Brain Appeal to award grants of between £50,000 and £150,000 to the world-leading clinical and research teams at Queen Square.

We recognise how essential it is to invest in the latest technology and innovation. Sadly, overstretched NHS budgets and complex processes to pinpoint these innovative ideas mean that opportunities for progress are being missed.

One of the major problems faced by clinicians and researchers today is the lack of initial funding to get pioneering ideas quickly off the ground. The Innovation Fund will ensure that ideas go quickly from ‘bench to bedside’ so that clear progress for patients can be achieved.

Our panel of experts includes three of our clinical trustees: Professor Michael Hanna, Professor John Duncan and neurosurgeon Joan Grieve along with The National Brain Appeal’s Chief Executive, Theresa Dauncey and Innovation Fund Manager Jane Ferguson. The panel reviews applications twice a year depending on the growth of the fund.

In order to fund more of the ground-breaking ideas that desperately needs funding, we are searching for Ambassadors for Innovation to support this initiative. Ambassadors will be people who can commit to donating a gift of £2,500 per year to the Innovation Fund over a three-year period.

‘I was a patient at The National Hospital back in 1984. Back then it was regarded as the best place to go if you had any neurological issues (“the only hospital in London with more doctors than beds!”)  – and I’m delighted that its reputation as a centre of excellence has only increased over the years! I’m extremely grateful for all the care and expertise from the fantastic staff and doctors here. I am delighted to now be taking on a different role – one as an Ambassador for Innovation. This gives me the opportunity to support projects which are now making an immediate difference to patients’ lives.”
Lew Gray – Ambassador for Innovation

We awarded our first Innovation Fund grant of £75,000 in June 2018 to the following research project.


Mr Jonathan Shapey

Grant 1: Improving the success of skull-base tumour removal

Successful neurosurgery in patients who have tumours at the base of the skull is dependent on removing as much of the tumour as possible, while minimising the risk of facial nerve paralysis. This is currently a potentially devastating complication of this type of surgery causing people problems with communication and lack of confidence.

Led by Mr Jonathan Shapey, clinical research training fellow and neurosurgical trainee (pictured above), and a team of researchers at The National Hospital have designed advanced imaging methods to improve surgeons view of the tumour and facial nerve and other critical structure during surgery. We awarded Dr Shapey a grant of £75,000 in June 2018 to enable a feasibility study to be carried out with 20 patients, to validate the new system and enable them to design a future research study to determine its effectiveness in improving patient care.

Each year around 300 patients undergo this type of surgery and will potentially benefit from a vastly safer procedure with far less devastating potential complications.


“We are extremely grateful for the support provided by the National Brain Appeal’s Innovation Fund in helping us to deliver this exciting project,” says Mr Shapey. “We have finished testing the novel MRI sequences we plan to incorporate into the navigation system and these are now ready to use in patients.  In December 2018 we received delivery of a state-of-the-art intraoperative ultrasound system with dedicated probes for use in neurosurgery.

“Since then, we have been performing laboratory tests using the machine to evaluate the system’s novel research software.  In the laboratory, we have used the machine to create anatomical models with the correct ultrasound imaging characteristics to test our system before it is used in patients. We have also used the machine to test the system’s software to ensure that the ultrasound images acquired are clear and suitable for clinical use. Our next step is to start recruiting patients to the study in late February and hope to perform the first surgical case using the system in March.”


The new navigation system has been tested in the laboratory on a 3D model, and has been confirmed as safe to use in patients. The first study patient was operated on in August and the second patient was be operated on in September 2019.

The team is on track with their recruitment of patients too, with five people approached, and three have been recruited to take part. They hope to have six people on board by summer 2020.


Jonathan Shapey and his team have been working hard to develop a navigation system using advanced MRI techniques and intraoperative ultrasound to help give surgeons a much clearer view of crucial nerves during surgery to remove tumours from the base of the skull. He is very positive about the results of this project so far and is hopeful about the next stages.

Currently surgeons use neuro-monitoring during surgery but despite using this technique nerve damage is a common consequence of this type of surgery. Facial weakness, paralysis and disfigurement is life-changing and can have devastating effects on a patients quality of life. To avoid this, surgeons often have to leave some of the tumour, making the use of gamma knife to remove as much as possible of what’s left necessary. Recent evidence suggests that long-term, many tumours grow back.


This new technique will be able to be used in all brain tumours in the future, with skull-base tumours just being the starting point. Funding through the Innovation Fund has already unlocked additional funding from UCL’s Therapeutic Acceleration Scheme/MRC Confidence in Concept (CiC) scheme to provide additional financial support with a specific focus on developing the system’s software.

Mr Hani Marcus and Emmanouil Dimitrakakis

Grant 2: ‘Smart’ instrument for keyhole brain surgery

Our second grant went to academic consultant neurosurgeon, Hani Marcus (pictured above, top) in January 2019.

For one year from August 2019, Mr Marcus will be working with engineering PHD student Emmanouil Dimitrakakis (also pictured above, bottom) to develop a ‘smart’ instrument to improve the safety and efficiency of the extended transsphenoidal approach – keyhole surgery done through the nose for tumours on and around the pituitary gland.


Over 500 patients every year undergo surgery for brain tumours in this area. Long term this will mean that more patients will be able to have this kind of keyhole surgery and avoid the more risky option of open brain surgery. The difference this will make to individual lives and outcomes is enormous.


The picture below shows the first prototype robot ‘arm’ (bottom), side by side with the commercially available general surgery robotic tools that the daVinci robot uses (top). This prototype gives the surgeon ‘wrist-like’ dexterity to give much more control when removing tumours through the nose.

Dr Marcus and Emmanouil are planning studies alongside surgeons to evaluate the prototype.  

If you would like further details on The Innovation Fund or becoming an Ambassador for Innovation please email Jane Ferguson.

Where Next

What we fund
Neurorehab Appeal
Rare Dementia Support

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