Nottingham Trent University creates robots that perform better spinal surgery

Scoliosis sufferers could see their lives transformed from new micro-robotics technology developed at Nottingham Trent's Medical Design Research Group.

Scoliosis is a medical condition in which a person’s spine has a sideways curve. Symptoms include constipation, respiratory problems, back pain, and for women, painful menstruation - image courtesy of Pixabay.
Scoliosis is a medical condition in which a person’s spine has a sideways curve. Symptoms include constipation, respiratory problems, back pain, and for women, painful menstruation – image courtesy of Pixabay.

The system involves two robotic arms semi-autonomously moving in unison to drill holes in individual vertebrae. The micro-robots have exceptional accuracy, recorded at 0.1 of a millimetre.

Scoliosis is a medical condition in which a person’s spine has a sideways curve. Symptoms include constipation, respiratory problems, back pain, and for women, painful menstruation.

The drilling technology developed by Nottingham Trent will allow surgeons to straighten the spines of scoliosis patients. This will occur through inserting pedicle screws, which are attached to deformity rod reducers that allow surgeons to lever individual vertebrae and realign the spine.

The research is a collaborative project that’s headed by Philip Breedon, professor of Smart Technologies at Nottingham Trent. Professor David Brown of Nottingham Trent University’s School of Science and Technology and consultant spinal surgeon Professor Bronek Boszczyk, head of spinal surgery at Benedictus Krankenhaus Tutzing in Germany, are also involved in the project.

The technology works the following way. First, a person goes for a scan to assess the curvature of their spine and their spinal deformities, such as scoliosis or kyphosis.

Data on the scan is then put into the system. Two robots, a datum robot and a tooling robot, are guided by a surgeon to be locked to a particular vertebrae. Once in place, the surgeons have an exact dimension of the vertebrae in 3D space.

The tooling robot then drills either side of the vertebrae where the pedicle screws are placed. After that, the surgeon physically manipulates the spine through which a bar or bars are placed to straighten it.

Professor Boszczyk said: “It is paramount that spinal procedures are carried out with total accuracy in order to minimise what can be substantial risks to a patient.

“This technology has the potential to minimise those risks by performing a key part of the operation with accuracy which cannot be achieved by a human hand.

“It’s a brilliant example of how robotics can enhance and improve the way in which intrusive operations are carried out, improving patient safety and ensuring efficiency of process.”


Reporting by Harry Wise