Tucson hospital introduces city’s first GPS-guided spine surgery robot

Carondelet Neurological Institute at St. Joseph’s Hospital in Tucson recently acquired new GPS-guided surgical robot technology to help surgeons perform complex spinal fusion surgeries.

The computer-guided, robot-assisted platform is the first of its kind in Tucson.

“Robotic guidance is an assistant for the surgeon,” said Dr. Matthew Wilson, a surgeon at CNI. “The robotic arm aligns tools along a planned pathway to place screw implants to stabilize the spine. Navigation is a way for the surgeon to see the tools in relation to a patient’s body on a screen as the tools are being used.”

Operating room setup for robot-assisted surgery at Carondelet Neurological Institute in Tucson.
Operating room setup for robot-assisted surgery at Carondelet Neurological Institute in Tucson.

According to CNI, the system acts “like a car’s GPS navigation system” by following an individualized map based on images of the patient’s anatomy imported into the computerized robot, guiding the robotic arm to specific areas of the spine.

All this helps the surgeon calculate the accurate size and placement of screws and implants during spine surgery.

“Much like a GPS in your car, the surgeon plans the route to place screw implants in the spine and the robotic system helps aligns that pathway to accurately place the screws,” Wilson said. “The surgical tools and implant are visible on the GPS screen throughout the entire procedure.”

CNI is one of several hospitals in Arizona investing in state-of-the-art, minimally invasive surgery equipment.

“Minimally invasive surgery combines a surgeon’s understanding of anatomy with x-ray imaging to treat spine conditions using small incisions,” allowing the surgeon to separate the muscles surrounding the spine rather than cut through them, according to CNI.

The GPS-guided system at CNI is approved to place pedicle screws in the cervical, thoracic and lumbar spine.

Common procedure options that may involve pedicle screw placement include:

  • Posterior Fusion
  • Anterior Lumbar Interbody Fusion
  • Lateral Lumbar Interbody Fusion
  • Transforaminal Lumbar Interbody Fusion
  • Posterior Lumbar Interbody Fusion

Carondelet Neurological Institute, part of the Carondelet Health Network, is located at St. Joseph’s Hospital at 350 N. Wilmot Road in Tucson.

Graham Bosch

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