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  • 12.29.10

Robot Turns Spinal Surgery Into a Flight Simulator Game

SpineAssist’s tiny robot arm cuts the risk of infection, reduces hospital stay time, and could revolutionize spinal surgery.

Mazor Robotics surgery

From the interesting advances in
medicine file: An Israeli company has created small robots for spinal
surgery that appear to reduce pain and complication risk for
patients. Mazor Robotics’
SpineAssist robots are currently in use in the United States,
Germany, Russia, Israel, South Korea and several other countries.

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SpineAssist is a small robotic arm coupled with a workstation unit that allows surgeons to map out a patient’s spinal anatomy
in advance (pictured). The package also includes a clamping fixation
device and special software to control the robot. These are currently the only robots specifically created for spinal surgery.

One of the robot’s most interesting features, Mazor CEO Ori Hadomi tells Fast Company, is how it helps surgeons avoid
making deep incisions while repairing the spine. Here is how he
described the creation process:

When we were
founded, we were thinking that the technology we developed would be
able to be implemented in a very wide range of
applications–everything from the brain to the spine to the knee. But
we acknowledged that, being a small company, we must be very focused.
So we decided to focus on the area where we thought we had the
greatest potential–the spinal cord.

So far, spinal
implants have been inserted in 2,000 different surgeries using
SpineAssist. There have been no cases of nerve damage, Mazor says.
A newly released
study
in the medical journal Spine
indicates a 98% success rate in implant accuracy via SpineAssist. And a presentation
at a 2010 spinal surgery conference
says use of the
robots reduced patients’ hospital stay by a third and led to a 70%
reduction in misplaced implants.

Mazor’s robotics system are primarily
used in cases of scoliosis and severe spinal deformities. The Dallas
Morning News
recently wrote on
the use of SpineAssist on scoliosis patients in Texas:

“Like
a pilot in a flight simulator, I can map out the patient’s spinal
anatomy and perform the entire procedure before the patient even
arrives for surgery,” [SpineAssist co-creator Dr. Isadore]
Lieberman said. “I contribute the basic carpentry, just putting
the screws in the right spot.”

In
addition to increasing precision, Lieberman said SpineAssist reduces
a patient’s radiation exposure during surgery. Lieberman said that
with SpineAssist there’s less chance of an infection, less pain after
surgery, fewer complications, shorter hospital stays and quicker
recovery.

“We
envision this technology as ushering in a new era in spine surgeries,
the same way laparoscopies transformed general surgery in the 1990s,”
said Sara Misuraca, program director of the Scoliosis & Spine
Tumor Center at Texas Health Plano.”

Hadomi
also compares SpineAssist to a sort of “GPS system” for surgeons
to use while inserting spinal implants.

The
use of robotics for spinal surgery is, naturally, a new field.
Hospitals will need to be sold on purchasing SpineAssist systems and
on arranging training sessions for surgeons. Mazor is currently
selling SpineAssist to hospitals for $660,000, along with an annual
$66,000 service fee. Spinal implants marketed by the firm are also
proprietary. Given the inflated costs of just about everything in healthcare, that seems a small price to pay for empirically faster and easier surgery.

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[Photo courtesy Mazor Robotics]

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