Young oncology patients at our hospital will be able to benefit from a revolutionary type of augmented reality surgery, thanks to a gift from The Azaylia Foundation.

In August, we were honoured to accept a cheque for £20,000 from The Azaylia Foundation, becoming the new foundation’s first recipients. This generous gift will now be spent on an innovative piece of equipment, which enables augmented reality surgery, using Indocyanine Green (ICG) dye and special cameras, which use near-infrared fluorescent technology to view the dye when it fluoresces.

The technique is still in its infancy but promises to be the most significant change in surgical practice since the introduction of laparoscopic surgery in the 1970s. For children with cancer this has the ability to revolutionise their surgical care.

Currently, surgeons use white light to view their operations. The look and feel of different tissues can be difficult to determine and, in oncology surgery, this difference can change outcomes. If not enough tissue is taken, cancer cells could be left behind, meaning the intensity of the chemotherapy that follows would increase, plus there may be a need to add radiotherapy or stem cell transplant to the patient’s treatment. This is because of an increased risk of the disease coming back or recurring. If too much tissue is taken, it could have long-term impact on the child or young person, with possible need for complex reconstructive surgery or life-long medical input. 

Augmented reality surgery with ICG has the power to positively alter some of these outcomes and provides the surgeon with additional tools during surgery. Not only can the dye light up some tumours, but it can show where the normal tissues are, helping to determine what tissue needs to be removed. Additionally, ICG injected next to or into the cancer can show precisely where the draining lymph nodes are, which are often needed for sampling. This can save the patient from significant dissection to find them, which comes with an increased risk of damage to other structures.

Whilst this technique is already used in adult surgery, our hospital will be the only paediatric trust in the UK currently offering the full range of this type of innovative surgery. 

Max Pachl, a consultant paediatric surgeon at Birmingham Children’s Hospital, who is pioneering this surgery for children’s kidney tumours, said: “This equipment and use of dye has the potential to be a game changer in the standard of care for oncology surgery. I have trialled the procedure myself with a number of our patients and families, so know first-hand what a difference it will make to hundreds more over the coming years. In the longer term, widespread use of ICG in our oncology surgery in Birmingham will place us firmly as one of the top performing hospital trusts in the UK and Europe for cancer surgery in children.

“That’s why charitable donations, like this one, are so important to our hospital. They enable us to offer the latest and very best treatment options for our patients. We’re so thankful to The Azaylia Foundation for this generous gift.”

The Azaylia Foundation was created in memory of young Azaylia Cain, who was treated at our hospital after being diagnosed with an aggressive form of leukaemia at just eight-weeks-old. Azaylia became a beacon of hope for so many during her short life. Her inspirational legacy is being kept alive by using money raised through the foundation, to help fund treatments for oncology patients, which are not readily available on the NHS.