July 9, 2020 / By Stephen Babcock / STAFF
When surgeons at the Johns Hopkins Hospital performed surgery to stabilize a patient’s spine last month, they did so wearing a headset that looked like a fighter pilot’s headgear, with a foot pedal they could turn on and off hands free. The headset overlaid 3D images directly into their view of the patient’s anatomy as they placed screws to stabilize the patient’s spine.
“This is like a GPS for the spine,” said Dr. Timothy Witham, director of the Johns Hopkins Neurosurgery Spinal Fusion Laboratory, who was one of three surgeons performing the procedure.
The June 8 procedure marked the first use of an augmented reality system that is designed specifically to guide surgeons. Developed by Chicago-based Augmedics, the system, known as xvision Spine System, brings the technology that puts a computer-generated image into a person’s sight line into surgery.
For the procedure known as spinal decompression and fusion operation, surgeons placed screws and rods to stabilize the spine of a woman with low back and leg pain due to arthritis. It takes precision, as surgeons want to place the screws as firmly as possible, while also doing so in a way that will avoid any harm of the nearby spinal cord and nerves, or organs. Typically, this has been accomplished using surgeons’ own eyes and X-rays. It’s also an area where computer assistance or robotics has come into play.