Though it is several years from being available, a new imaging technology created by researchers at Dartmouth College is already being hailed as a medical breakthrough that will make back surgery even safer and less costly.
The system is a 3-dimensional real-time optical tracking system that will be able to guide surgeons as they operate in much the same way that your automobile’s GPS system tells you which route to take and which highways are less congested.
Currently, patients seeking medical attention for lumbar spine and cervical spine problems are asked to have either MRIs or CT scans to allow their physicians a clear view of what is causing their pain.
These diagnostic imaging tools have provided remarkable clarity on the type of damage that exists. What they can’t do is tell the physician what their best surgical path is, or whether their surgical plan will be complicated by the movement of tissues between the time that the image is taken, or even midway through a procedure.
The new system, which was created by professors from the college’s Thayer School of Engineering working in collaboration with physicians from the Geisel School of Medicine, addresses this problem by combining complex software algorithms with tiny cameras mounted on the surgical microscope that spine surgeons use during procedures. As the cameras snap digital photos of what is being encountered during the course of the surgery, it sends the images to a monitor, providing the surgeon with far more information from which to make decisions about the placement of their tools, medical devices, or implants.
Though skilled spine specialists are currently making these same decisions every day when treating patients with conditions ranging from herniated discs to lumbar stenosis, having this new mapping technology available is likely to cut approximately 30 minutes off of the time that it takes to complete a procedure. This means that the minimally invasive surgeries that already represent a dramatic improvement for neck and back pain patients will become even safer, quicker, and less expensive.
The study was conducted by Keith D. Paulsen, PhD, who is the Robert A. Pritzker Professor of Biomedical Engineering at Thayer School of Engineering at Dartmouth. He and his team have been testing the new technology on laboratory animals, and have already been able to improve on their initial design by converting it into a handheld wand that surgeons will be able to pass over the surgical site in much the same way that airport security uses a wand to detect small metals that have set off airport metal detection units.
Speaking of the technology, Paulsen said, “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 device has been granted additional funding by the National Institutes of Health and will be undergoing further testing.
With the availability of groundbreaking technology and minimally invasive procedures, there is no reason to endure back pain. Contact our office today to set up an appointment to discuss the relief we can provide.