New Sensors Are Making Spine Surgery Safer

Category: Spine Surgery | Author: Stefano Sinicropi

Safe Spine Surgery

We are always looking for new ways to make spine surgery safer, and it appears that researchers in Switzerland may be doing just that. According to a team of medical scientists, they have created new sensor-enabled surgical equipment that hopes to provide a new level of safety for patients undergoing complicated spinal operations.

The technology focuses on using real-time information to help a computer determine how screws and other hardware should be inserted into the spine to keep it stabilized. In the past, spinal stabilization or fusion operations were performed by a doctor by hand, and although surgeons have a steady hand and decades of practice, hardware can still shift or the stabilization operation can fail.

Next came the introduction of robotic-assisted surgery. A surgeon could use a robotic device to ensure the hardware is attached at precisely the correct location and angle, but a small portion of spine stabilization procedures still failed for a variety of different reasons. Maybe the bone was thinner than expected, or it was slightly different in shape than a standard bone for that specific operation. Robot guidance can only do so much, and they haven’t been able to adapt and react to each individual patient. Until now.

Real-Time Image Guidance

According to researchers, sensor-enabled surgical robotic technology will soon allow the machines to adapt to real-time data they receive from the patient. Essentially, the new technology creates a 3-D sensor map which allows the robotic drill to “feel” across the bone terrain. When combined with electromyography (EMG) neuro monitoring, the drill can avoid obstacles, nerves and bone boundaries.

Reachers said the sensors can detect if a bone is thicker or thinner than expected, and any nearby nerves in real-time. All of this relevant information is taken into account and relayed to the surgeon so that they can ensure the precise size hardware, the correct location and the perfect drilling angle is used to insert the stabilization device. They believe it will help ensure that stabilization screws are inserted precisely for every spine surgery patient.

“For the first time the neurosurgeon has real-time data on where the drilling instrument is during the procedure and the surgical robot acts with supreme accuracy shutting down the drilling far sooner than a human operation could, thereby avoiding breakthrough or injury,” said medical researcher Andrews Raabe, who helped develop the technology. “This means potentially zero morbidity procedures with respect to pedicle screw misplacement. We see this as the future of spine surgery.”

The technology is still in its infancy, but researchers are optimistic that continued trials will prove successful. If so, the technology could make its way into an operating room near you in the not-so-distant future.

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