Innovation Fund

The Innovation Fund – what is it?

The Innovation Fund enables The National Brain Appeal to award grants of between £50,000 and £150,000 to seed-fund research projects carried out by world-leading clinical and research teams in Queen Square.

We recognise that it is essential to invest in the latest technology and innovation to achieve change for those people living with a neurological condition.

One of the major problems faced by clinicians and researchers today is the lack of initial funding to get pioneering ideas off the ground quickly. And with overstretched NHS budgets and complex processes to pinpoint these innovative ideas, opportunities for progress are being missed.

Through the Innovation Fund, and with your help, we want to ensure that the latest and most innovative ideas are given the chance to be developed so that patients can benefit from the latest technology and ideas available.

What we fund

Grants are awarded to the most innovative projects, enabling them to scope, explore and test new diagnostic processes, treatment pathways, drugs and technologies.

We support the most innovative and urgent initiatives at the time. Projects must be: innovative, show clear benefits to patients, and research must be translational research.

 If you are a clinician or researcher based in Queen Square, please contact me for more information on applying to the Innovation Fund.

Meet the researchers whose projects we are currently funding and read all about what they hope to achieve for patients through their work.

Current Projects

Mr Jonathan Shapey

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.

Led by clinical research training fellow and neurosurgical trainee, Mr Jonathan Shapey, a team of researchers at The National Hospital have designed advanced imaging methods to give surgeons a much clearer view of crucial facial nerves during surgery to remove tumours from the base of the skull.

Read more

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.

In June 2018 we awarded Dr Shapey the first Innovation Fund grant of £75,000. He aims to carry out a feasibility study with 20 patients to validate the new system and 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.

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.


How is the project developing?

Project Update: March 2020

Due to the coronavirus outbreak, all research studies not related to Covid-19 or other life-threatening conditions, including our study, were paused with immediate effect on 16 March.

At the time, the study the team had recruited eight people, scanned seven and operated on five patients. 

Project Update: September 2019

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 due to be operated on in later this month.

The team is on track with their recruitment of patients, with five people approached, and three have been recruited to take part.

They hope to have six people on board by summer 2020.

Project Update: January 2019

“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, the team received delivery of a state-of-the-art intraoperative ultrasound system with dedicated probes for use in neurosurgery.

The team have since been performing laboratory tests using the machine to evaluate the system’s novel research software. 

In the laboratory, the machine has been used to create anatomical models with the correct ultrasound imaging characteristics to test the system before it is used in patients.

The machines have been used to test the system’s software to ensure that the ultrasound images acquired are clear and suitable for clinical use.

The next step is to start recruiting patients to the study in February. The hope is to perform the first surgical case using the system in March.

Mr Hani J Marcus

Emmanouil Dimitrikakis

Developing a ‘smart’ instrument for keyhole brain surgery

Mr Hani Marcus was awarded an Innovation Fund grant of £100,000 in January 2019 for his two-year project.

Working with engineering PHD student Emmanouil Dimitrakakis, he will 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.

Read more

The transsphenoidal approach is one of the best examples of keyhole surgery in the brain and results in fewer complications and more rapid recovery than conventional open surgery through the skull.

Although there are theoretical benefits to patients undergoing such surgery, most surgeons still find operating in this way very difficult. Surgeons have likened the conventional instruments used as akin to ‘operating with chopsticks’ as existing robots are either too large or bulky. They are also very expensive, keeping them out of reach of most hospitals.

Mr Marcus aims to develop a new “smart” handheld instrument that is smaller, simpler, and less expensive. This smart instrument will allow for wrist-like dexterity, and limit the forces exerted by surgeons.

bottom: current instrument, top: new prototype

In previous studies they have determined the specifications for this instrument, and have already developed a prototype smart instrument that is force-limiting.

Over two years they will further develop this instrument so it also incorporates wrist-like dexterity. They will then ensure it is safe as well as effective before embarking on a first-in-human study. If the project is successful they will plan for a larger clinical study and, at the same time, seek early industry collaboration to help secure regulatory approval.

Over 500 patients undergo surgery for brain tumours in this area every year. 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.


How is the project developing?

Project Update: March 2020

Due to coronavirus, the team are unable to physically be in the lab, but they are hoping to continue work on their Innovation Fund project alongside everything else, and are continuing to work on designs.

Project Update: October 2019

While this project only officially started in August, Hani and Emmanouil have been working on the first prototype ever since they heard the project had been successful in securing the Innovation Fund grant.

The picture shows the first prototype robot ‘arm’, 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. 

Hani and Emmanouil have been demonstrating the prototype at various National Brain Appeal events to illustrate their plans for it. They are now planning studies alongside surgeons to evaluate the prototype.

How do we choose which projects to fund?

Our panel of experts includes three of our clinical trustees: Professor Michael Hanna, Professor John Duncan and leading neurosurgeon Joan Grieve, along with The National Brain Appeal’s Chief Executive, Theresa Dauncey, and Innovation Fund Manager, Jane Ferguson. The panel reviews applications at least once a year. However, the number of projects we fund depends entirely on the how many ambassadors choose to support the fund.

Professor John Duncan

Professor Michael Hanna

Contact Me

If you’d like to find out more about supporting the Innovation Fund
get in touch today

IMPORTANT: When donating please write ‘Innovation Fund’ in the ‘specific reason’ box

Sign up as an Ambassador today

Find out more about Ambassadors

Penny Bentley, patient and Ambassador

“I am hugely grateful to Queen Square for their continual commitment and support into research of neurological conditions such as mine (Multifocal Motor Neuropathy) that allows so many people to lead near normal lives. This support over 15 years has enabled me to continue with my career which has given me great satisfaction. As a result of the above, I am delighted to be able to offer my support as an Ambassador for Innovation so that others can benefit from the latest breakthroughs in diagnosis, treatment and care.”

Charles Wells, patient and Ambassador

“I am very proud to be an Ambassador for Innovation. Innovation is progress – it is the only way to guarantee that the next person always has a better chance.”

Lew Grey, patient and Ambassador

“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.”

Swee Tan and Harry Yeap, Ambassadors

“In July 2017 our daughter, Alicia was admitted to the Molly Lane Fox Ward for her brain tumour operation. She was diagnosed with a very rare malignant brain cancer, pineoblastoma, which required urgent surgery. However, because of an infection she was in the ward for almost a month.

During the wait and after her successful surgery, we were very impressed with all the NHS staffs and the care provided. We saw that people from all walks of life and circumstances are given the necessary care. We realised that for such a big service provider as the NHS there is a need of donations from people who can help. That is why we decided to donate and chose the Innovation Fund because we believe that research will enhance skill and efficiency when treating patients.

We are so thankful to the researchers and to the generosity of the people who donate to The Innovation Fund, and hope that future innovations will save more lives or give better quality of life to those in need.”

Caroline Church, Ambassador and Trustee

“A large part of the personal commitment of the staff at The National Hospital for Neurology and Neurosurgery goes on behind the scenes, none the less it is deeply impressive. Queen Square has a track record of raising the standards of research, technological advancement, diagnosis, treatment and training, not only for the UK but throughout the world. Many countries have benefitted from the cutting-edge development provided by this global centre of excellence.

Critically, these exciting initiatives need seed capital to provide proof of concept prototypes before they can be scaled to attract broader public and private sector sponsorship. To that end, many of the staff do their own fundraising and work in their own time to support the cause. However, without the added financial backing provided by The National Brain Appeal there are significant limitations to this process, opportunities would be foregone and world-class innovation would not reach patients as swiftly as possible.

I am profoundly pleased to be an Ambassador for The Innovation Fund. As such, Ambassadors can provide a stable source of funding to those dedicated to improving the quality of life of the one in six people who suffer from a neurological condition.”

Prof Michael Hanna, Director, UCL Institute of Neurology

“The Innovation Fund will enable new ideas to be developed quickly and go from bench to bedside as efficiently as possible.”

Where Next

What we fund
Neurorehab Appeal

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