A new neuroscience centre at the intersection of health, research and education

As part of the Sydney Children’s Hospital Stage 1 redevelopment, Randwick will be home to a new Neuroscience Comprehensive Care and Research Centre (NCCRC).

Planning and design are underway for the NCCRC following a $50 million contribution from the NSW Government in 2021.

The centre will provide patients with neurological, neurosurgical and related disorders better access to evidence-based, research-driven care in a setting where multidisciplinary clinicians, researchers and allied health teams work together in a collaborative, purpose-built environment.

The vision for the service is to ensure the full range of neuroscience specialties are deeply integrated to offer seamless care and deliver novel therapies for patients.

Dr Hugo Sampaio, Head of Neurology at Sydney Children’s Hospital, Randwick said the biggest benefit will be bringing together individuals, activities, and interactions in one place, leading to improved patient outcomes.

“Children and their carers need to be supported in navigating the healthcare system to ensure comprehensive care is provided for patients with chronic conditions and disability.

“Thinking about the future, what this new centre will allow us to do is offer a deeper level of patient-centered care because we’ll be able to combine research, education and clinical care in one location,” Dr Sampaio said.

"Care will be provided in the most appropriate setting with most patients requiring elements of all services during their journey. It will be time-saving, energy-saving and fundamentally a better experience for patients and their families.”

The location of the NCCRC in the new redevelopment will also mean staff will be closer to other acute specialties in the Sydney Children’s Hospital Stage 1 redevelopment.

“We will be located just above the oncology research spaces and inpatient units. There are many cross overs with oncology and neurosciences - we are intersecting more with molecular targets for therapies, so we have much to learn and from each other,” Dr Sampaio said. 

Enhanced education

Central to the development will be a focus on education and training to enhance research and innovation outcomes.  

With more children living longer with chronic and complex conditions, thanks to better survival rates from neonatal ICUs and disease-modifying therapies, demand for neurological services will continue to grow.

“To be able to centralise care and education we provide in one setting will be brilliant,” said Erin Beavis, Neurology Clinical Nurse Consultant for SCH.

Erin specialises in educating families about supportive ketogenic diets, and how to confidently manage emergency medication for children with prolonged seizures.

She believes the newly designed education spaces in the NCCRC will better equip families in the home environment, and could prevent errors.

“With the ketogenic diet, there is a practical component to the education where we consult with dieticians and other team members to compare and share recipes,” Erin said.

“We believe that being able to co-locate with other staff and physically show parents how to cook a specific meal, will prevent errors and boost confidence for parents when they are preparing meals at home. There previously hasn’t been a designated space to undertake the practical prep for this type of education, it’s usually done over the phone or online,” she said.

Randwick, a centre of excellence in Skull Base surgery 

Beyond the new design of the NCCRC, intersections between other tertiary specialties in the neuroscience domain are advancing.

Ear Nose and Throat (ENT) surgery has developed increasing crossover with Neurosurgery, as well as Ophthalmology, Oral Maxillofacial Surgery and Plastics Surgery.

Dr Marlene Soma, Staff Specialist ENT surgeon, has been working with a range of experts on a paediatric Skull Base service for Sydney Children's Hospital, Randwick.

“ENT surgery involves far more than just the ear, nose and throat, it represents the specialty that provides access to a wide variety of vital structures and organs housed within the skull, face, head and neck. This area represents one of the most complicated and intricate anatomical regions within the human body.

“Despite the complexities, there have been great advancements in technology and training in Rhinology, an ENT subspecialty that addresses conditions of the nose and sinuses.

“Minimally invasive surgery allows us to access parts of the skull and even brain through the nose with cameras and telescopes avoiding the need for scars to the face or head and in most cases avoiding the approach where the head is shaved and part of the skull bone is excised to access tumours, a procedure that is called a craniotomy.

“As a result, we are working across multiple disciplines, interfacing with the neurosurgeons, and head and neck surgeons to develop new approaches for complex cases. This ultimately benefits our patients, resulting in shorter hospital stays, reduced operative time, minimal disfigurement and quicker recoveries for our patients,” Dr Soma said.

Because of these advancements, Skull Base surgery is expanding rapidly.

“When thinking about the Skull Base, it’s complex, because it’s not something you can see or reach easily,” Dr Soma said. “We think of the brain inside the head, and the neck and your face on the outside, but it’s the junction between where the two meet that’s also important."

Dr Catherine Banks, ENT surgeon with advanced Rhinology and Skull Base skills at Randwick further elaborated, “children can develop an array of tumours and other conditions involving the Skull Base. These can arise from within the brain, the sinuses, the eye, the neck or even the skull bones themselves. 

“We can now access many of these lesions via the nose and then work with our neurosurgical and other surgical colleagues to remove the tumour and minimise the side effects or residual deficits. So that’s where it’s all very interesting and new.”

In the last few years, SCH has employed two Skull Base surgeons, Dr Catherine Banks and A/Prof Raewyn Campbell, who have overseas fellowship training specifically in this unique field. Their vision is to offer children the ability to have highly specialised treatment in a paediatric setting with an experienced paediatric multidisciplinary team backing them up.

“Our goal is to make Randwick a centre of excellence for the country,” Dr Banks said.

Looking towards 2025

The NCCRC is expected to open in 2025 and will include:

  • 24 bed inpatient unit:
    • Majority standard single bedrooms with ensuites and parent and a carer space
    • Two standard single bedrooms with video electroencephalogram (VEEG) telemetry capacity
  • Ambulatory zone with assessment, counselling, treatment and telemetry consult rooms
  • Workplace zone

Thank you to Dr Hugo Sampaio, Erin Beavis, Dr Marlene Soma, Dr Catherine Banks and Dr Erica Jacobson for their generous support for this article.