Bringing a spine start-up to fruition — New technology in spine navigation

Laura Dyrda -   Print  |

Siemionow KrzysztofChicago-based spine surgeon Kris Siemionow, MD, and his colleagues are working on a new startup developing a wearable navigation system for surgical procedures. The system, which incorporates augmented realty technology, focuses on spine applications to provide integrated image guidance solutions to physicians.

The Magellan navigation system from Verteks is a wearable device that allows physicians to see patients' anatomy through a head mounted display projecting directly onto the operative field in real time. The surgeon could see the bony anatomy, vessels and nerves when looking at the surgical area without cutting, moving or removing tissue.


"The end goal is to have wearable navigation," says Dr. Siemionow. "The technology necessary to accomplish this goal is available and the project makes sense conceptually and ergonomically. Surgeons look down while performing surgery and we will help them see select anatomical landmarks without the need to expose them."


Dr. Siemionow and his team have received funding for the project, but its success still hinges on a few factors such as:


• Resolution and quality of head mounted display
• Integrating large amounts of surgical instruments
• Trying to convert hospitals and surgeons to a different navigation system


Over the years, two main players, Medtronic and BrainLab, have dominated the spinal navigation field.


"They've been on the market for a long time and they use a similar base technology," says Dr. Siemionow. "This has resulted in a crowded IP field. That's why you don't see new navigation systems coming out of other spine companies."


The surgical navigation field seems ready for disruption.


"We have our own tracking and guidance system, based on technology that significantly differs from that used by our competitors. In order to increase the functionality of the product, we are incorporating image overlay technology," says Dr. Siemionow. "Our headset will display pertinent anatomical structures while tracking the position of the instruments in relation to the patient's body, all in real time."


He expects to complete the first prototype of the navigation system by the end of the month and then to become FDA-ready within 24 months. A unique feature of the tracking technology is the marker system, which consists of stickers that are attached directly to surgical instruments eliminating the need for cumbersome attachments found in currently used systems. High-resolution vision cameras are used instead of infrared cameras to track the markers. The founders feel that these properties carry a unique set of advantages over their competitors.


"There is a lot of interest from companies that currently don't have their own system," says Dr. Siemionow. "The thing that is most exciting to me is the fact that this is wearable. In combination with the image overlay, we will help surgeons see more of the patients' anatomy without the need for extensive surgical exposure."


Surgical navigation technology has other practical advantages as well. It can speed up complex procedures with challenging anatomy, such as revisions, and improve accuracy of instrumentation.


"The technology has to be quick and responsive, and it can not add too much time to the case," says Dr. Siemionow.


The technology also can't be too complex. Dr. Siemionow and his team have modules for the lumbar spine that allow surgeons to select what they want to see — the disc, nerve, pedicle and select anatomic marks.


"The biggest advantages of image guidance are decreasing radiation for the surgeon and increasing accuracy," says Dr. Siemionow. "Our system feels natural because you are looking down at the operative filed and your instruments while anatomical images are displayed on the headset."


The company is part of Chicago’s MATTER medtech incubator, which is a community of healthcare entrepreneurs and industry leaders working together in a shared space to individually and collectively fuel the future of healthcare innovation.



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