Facility in Jennie Sealy Hospital will provide real-time images to neurosurgeons

Houston’s Fondren Foundation has committed $1 million to establish a state-of-the-art neurosurgery facility in the University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston’s new Jennie Sealy Hospital, which is now under construction.

The Fondren Foundation Brain Room will feature innovative technology that will enable physicians to produce magnetic resonance images of patients’ brains while surgery is underway. The technique, known as “intraoperative MRI,” will provide surgeons with ultra-precise, real-time guidance to assist delicate procedures such as brain tumor removal.

“We’re grateful to have the Fondren Foundation, one of the leading philanthropic foundations in Texas, make such a visionary commitment to help us realize our dreams for the new Jennie Sealy Hospital, “ said UTMB president Dr. David L. Callender. “This cutting-edge facility will be an integral part of UTMB’s service to a growing state.”

According to UTMB associate professor and neurosurgeon Dr. Joel Patterson, UTMB needs an intraoperative MRI capability to fulfill its mission as a 21st-century academic medical center. 

“This is a very valuable tool,” Patterson said. “It will enable us to take better care of patients, allow us to develop research protocols with opportunities for regional, national, and international collaboration, and ensure that our trainees are exposed to state-of-the-art technology. All of this, in turn, will have a positive impact on the medical care that patients receive now and in the future.”

For brain tumor patients in particular, according to Patterson, intraoperative MRI holds out the promise of better disease control, thereby improving quality of life and chances of survival.

“The operating surgeon can use the intraoperative MRI to assess the degree of tumor resection — how much of the tumor has been removed,” Patterson said. “This information can then be used in real time to make decisions which may have impact on survival, quality of life and need for additional intervention in the postoperative period.”

While first-generation intraoperative MRI systems have been dedicated exclusively to inpatient surgery, the new UTMB unit will also be available to scan patients who aren’t undergoing surgery, increasing its utilization and usefulness. In addition, the MRI’s surroundings will be designed to support the system and take full advantage of its unique capabilities.

“That’s one of the advantages of starting from scratch,” Patterson said. “We’re able to design and build the operating suite to accept and adapt to the technology of the future.”

In addition to the Fondren Foundation Brain Room, the $438 million Jennie Sealy Hospital will feature 310 family-centered patient rooms (including 54 dedicated to intensive care), 20 world-class surgical suites and a 28-bed day surgery center. Its resilient design will enable it to handle adverse weather conditions, with functional space located at least 25 feet above sea level.

The cost of the $438 million hospital is covered by $150 million in tuition revenue bonds approved by the Texas Legislature, $18 million in UTMB funds, and a $270 million philanthropic goal.  The Fondren gift brings the total philanthropic commitments to $192 million. The fundraising campaign officially kicked off on April 20, 2012.   UTMB officials anticipate that the hospital’s doors will open for patients in early 2016.

Created in 1948 by Houston philanthropist Ella F. Fondren, the Fondren Foundation has been a major supporter of UTMB since 1981 and has made significant gifts that include a $300,000 grant to help establish the university’s Galveston National Laboratory.