Dartmouth Professors Invent New Imaging Tool to Improve Spine Surgery

In the last several years there has been remarkable progress in the technology available for the treatment of neck pain and lower back pain. Spinal surgeries that once required dramatic, invasive procedures and long periods of hospitalization and recovery have been replaced by minimally-invasive procedures that allow patients to get up and walk out of surgical centers on the same day and return to their normal activities much more quickly. Now a group of professors from Dartmouth College have revealed that they’ve created a new imaging tool that is expected to make these procedures even more effective. The tool, called an intraoperative stereovision system (iSV), is expected to shorten spinal surgeries by 30 minutes.

Modern technology has permitted spine surgeons like those at our lumbar spine specialty practice in New Jersey to “see” what is causing pain long before they ever make an incision. The use of magnetic resonance imaging and CT scans provide clear images of where the damage is, and from this information, they are able to create a plan for their surgical procedure. Unfortunately, what these technologies do not reveal is where tissue and bone may unexpectedly be in the way of the surgeon’s scalpel, or whether internal structures have shifted between the time that an image was taken and when the surgery takes place. That is the problem that the iSV technology addresses.

By combining a complex software algorithm with cameras attached to a surgical microscope, the scientists have created a 3-dimensional optical tracking system that provides physicians with immediate feedback about what lies ahead as they are operating. According to one of the study’s authors, Keith D. Paulsen, PhD, the Robert A. Pritzker Professor of Biomedical Engineering at Thayer School of Engineering at Dartmouth, it provides information similar to the feedback that drivers are getting from their GPS systems, advising them of congestion ahead and best routes to move forward. The original technology involved a large unit, but later developments have reduced it to a handheld wand which surgeons can simply wave over the surgical site for feedback. Digital images are transmitted to a monitor in the surgical suite.

Paulsen says, “By rendering images in real time, with a simple handheld tool, we believe we can make surgeries safer and less costly in the future.” The technology is still in its developmental stages and has only been tested thus far during procedures being performed on pig spines, but it has been granted an additional round of funding by the National Institutes of Health and is expected to be available for lumbar spine specialists to add to their surgical sites in the next few years for human spinal surgeries.

With constant improvements being made in the techniques and tools being used to treat lumbar and cervical spine issues, patients can be increasingly confident that their problems can be solved and they can return to a healthy, pain-free life. For information on how our lumbar spine practice in New Jersey can help you, contact our office today to set up an appointment.

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