Surgeon Completes First Augmented Reality Spine Surgery

F.J. Thomas

Chicago, IL ( – An event that sounds like a scene straight out of the movie Iron Man happened late lastmonth. The world’s first augmented reality (AR) spine surgery took place at Chicago-based Midwest Orthopaedics at Rush according to a press releaseDr. Frank Phillips, Professor and Director of the Division of Spine Surgery and the Section of Minimally Invasive Spine Surgery at Rush University Medical Center, performed the cutting-edge surgery and reports that the patient is doing well.

Dr. Phillips performed the lumbar fusion with implants using the xvision™ Spine System developed by Augmedics, which allows a surgeon to see a patient’s anatomy through their skin in a realistic 3 dimensional (3D) version as if they had x-ray vision. The xvision Spine System allows surgeons to have better control and visualization, resulting in quicker and safer surgeries. According to a percutaneous study using cadavers and published in the Journal of Neurosurgery last year, surgery utilizing AR methods resulted in a 96.7 percent placement accuracy rate.

The xvision Spine System, recently approved by the FDA, includes a transparent headset that determines the location of the surgical tools. That information is then virtually transposed onto a patient’s CT data. The 3D image data is then projected on to the surgeon’s retina by means of the headset. This allows the surgeon to look at the patient and see their navigation route without having to change focus to a remote screen.

“Being able to place minimally invasive spinal instrumentation extremely accurately and efficiently, reducing surgical time and complication risk, is critical to improving outcomes for spinal surgery,” Phillips said. “Traditional surgical navigation platforms have been shown to improve accuracy of implant placement, however using augmented reality allows for the advantages of traditional (non-3D) navigation plus the ability to visualize the patient’s spinal anatomy in 3D through the skin.”

Augmedics, also located in Chicago, is backed by Terra Venture Partners, and AO Invest that is part of the non-profit and medically focused AO Foundation. The AO Foundation is comprised of a global network of surgeons focused primarily on surgical treatment of trauma and musculoskeletal disorders through education and what the company says is innovative research and development.

The orthopedic program at Rush is ranked in the top ten in the country by U.S. News & World Report.

AR Technology

Augmedics is just one of several companies that are greatly advancing healthcare with the use of new enhanced AR technology. A few companies have developed not only new technology for the operating room, but for training and patient interaction as well which could potentially increase the use to telehealth even further.

California company Surgical Theatre offers a virtual brain modeling system for pre-operative planning of surgeries, as well as other Surgical Rehearsal Platforms for neurological procedures. The systems scan 2D images and create a realistic 3D image that can be used to strategize for procedures and for educating patients.

Massachusetts company Proximie also offers a string of AR technology that can be used outside of the operating room. Their platforms can scan a patient’s body to pinpoint physical issues such as tumors or fractures, and then use those images to explain the problem and proposed surgery to the patient.

UK company FundamentalVR has created a surgery simulator training platform that it calls the “Flight Simulator For Surgeons.” The system uses realistic vibration patterns and 3D touch technology to simulate a lifelike surgery.

Osso VR, which is in Boston, Mass., offers a virtual reality surgical simulation platform as well. The system includes virtual tools that are used in orthopedic and spine procedures. The company emphasizes the need for surgeons to keep up to date with the latest available technology, as learning curves can increase the need for revisions, and impact outcomes.

Proprio Vision, located in Seattle Wash., leads several pilot programs at hospitals in the area utilizing AI and AR technology. The company’s system captures real-time volumetric video using light field technology to produce 3D images that can also be viewed from different angles.

Immersive Touch, located in Chicago, creates “fully explorable 3D virtual reality models” from a patient’s imaging results such as MRI or CT.

TruVision offers 3D technology through a digital microscope system that can convert microscopes into a 3D image, which are utilized in ophthalmology, neurosurgery and microsurgeries. TruVision partnered to offer the OCULUS Pentacam AXL which is used for refractive and cataract surgeries.

Echopixel, located in Los Altos Hills, Cal., offers the EchoPIxel True 3D. The system is an interactive mixed reality software system. The company is known for its realistic images and ability to bring out detail.

Missouri company SentiAR, uses holograms in its 3D imaging platform. The system creates a hands free 3D holographic image above the patient during surgery. The system has been extensively used in evaluating cardiac arrhythmias in a lab environment, however the company has partnered with Microsoft for other virtual reality ventures.

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