In the future, a robot that semi-autonomously drills holes into individual vertebrae of the human spine could be lending a hand to surgeons. A team of researchers from Nottingham Trent University led by Professor Philip Breedon, of the Medical Design Research Group, have created a new robosurgery technique where a pair of robotic arms perform spinal surgery with greater accuracy than humanly possible.
The researchers see great potential in this technology’s capability to rectify spinal conditions such as scoliosis and kyphosis. What is so promising about this technology is the robots ability to move in unison, and naturally, with the patient’s spine during the operation while drilling. This enables the device to deliver previously unachieved levels of accuracy, and by doing so, also improves safety for the spinal surgeries.
Prof. Breedon said:
“Surgeons performing life-changing operations to correct spinal conditions such as scoliosis or kyphosis have to ensure pinpoint levels of accuracy are achieved to avoid causing unnecessary and potentially serious injuries. This technology promises to deliver greater levels of accuracy than ever previously achieved – or even humanly possible – to improve the safety and efficiency of such procedures which are needed by people with serious spinal conditions.”
How It Works:
- There are two different robotic arms that work together during the procedure – datum and tooling.
- The datum robot is secured to a vertebra and moves in unison with it. That way it is able to relay data on this movement instantaneously to a computer.
- The tooling robot then adjusts automatically in accordance. This allows it to remain on its pre-defined path and continue to drill accurately.
- The use of augmented reality was explored. It was used to provide surgeons with live visual feedback that illustrated the depth of each hole as it was drilled.
- The holes drilled in the vertebrae are used to insert pedicle screws.
- The screws are attached to deformity rod reducers. These allow surgeons to lever individual vertebrae and realign the spine.
The accuracy of drilling has been recorded at 0.1mm. Prof. Boszczyk said:
“It is paramount that spinal procedures are carried out with total accuracy in order to minimise what can be substantial risks to a patient. This technology has the potential to minimise those risks by performing a key part of the operation with accuracy which cannot be achieved by a human hand. It’s a brilliant example of how robotics can enhance and improve the way in which intrusive operations are carried out, improving patient safety and ensuring efficiency of process.”