Patient-specific 3D-printed robotic spine replica allows preview of implant complications, performance


Researchers at Florida Atlantic University and the Marcus Neuroscience Institute, both based in Boca Raton, have created a robotic replica of a human spine using 3D printing that enables surgeons to preview the effects of spinal implants prior to an operation.

FAU's Erik Engeberg, PhD, Marcus Neuroscience Institute's Frank Vrionis, MD, PhD, and researchers from FAU's College of Engineering and Computer Science modeled the spine replica based on a CT scan of a human spine, FAU said Jan. 19. A modified cervical device was implanted, and a robotic arm flexed and extended the spine replica.

Intervertebral loads were measured with a magnetic sensor array that was embedded in a vertebra to classify the spine posture with four machine learning algorithms. Results of the study, published in the journal Sensors, showed the magnetic sensors could classify the five different postures of the spine with 100 percent accuracy.

In addition to previewing a device's effects before implantation into a patient, researchers said the spine replica and sensor array could also help with postoperative care.

"This new approach has a powerful potential to enable surgeons to preview and compare the effects of different surgical interventions in a patient-specific manner using robotically actuated spine twins," Dr. Vrionis said.  "[It] could help in determining whether a constrained, semi-constrained or unconstrained device could be the best fit, or even a fusion device. Following surgery, the spine replica could also assist us in estimating whether there is sufficient motion at the operated level and possibly helping us to determine if we need to change the rehabilitation program to prevent calcification and subsequent loss of intended motion."

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