Con­sider this re­search grounds for im­prov­ing del­i­cate surg­eries

Modern Healthcare - - OUTLIERS ASIDES & INSIDES -

When a team of Van­der­bilt Univer­sity en­gi­neers sought a way to im­prove the re­li­a­bil­ity of po­si­tion­ing sys­tems used in del­i­cate nose and throat surg­eries, cof­fee was the so­lu­tion. Cof­fee grounds, that is.

The en­gi­neers de­signed a “gran­u­lar jam­ming cap” filled with cof­fee grounds. The grounds form a thin layer in­side a stretchy sil­i­cone cap adorned with re­flec­tive dots. Once on the pa­tient’s head, the cap is at­tached to a vac­uum pump that sucks the air out, caus­ing the grounds to con­form closely to the con­tours of the pa­tient’s scalp.

Be­fore the surgery be­gins, a scan­ner maps the pre­cise lo­ca­tion of each re­flec­tive dot rel­a­tive to key fea­tures on the pa­tient’s head. Dur­ing surgery, an over­head cam­era ob­serves the po­si­tion of the dots, al­low­ing the nav­i­ga­tion sys­tem to ac­cu­rately track the po­si­tion of the pa­tient’s head as the sur­geon moves it. A mon­i­tor in the op­er­at­ing room dis­plays the data in com­bi­na­tion with a CT scan and the po­si­tion of the sur­geon’s in­stru­ments for a 3-D view in­side the pa­tient’s head.

This tech­nol­ogy could re­place one us­ing mark­ers that are taped to the head. That method is sub­ject to slip­ping and jar­ring—move­ments that can cause large track­ing er­rors dur­ing surgery. The cof­fee grounds ap­proach has been found to re­duce tar­get­ing er­rors by 83%.

“It’s a very clever way to greatly im­prove the accuracy of the guid­ance sys­tem when we are op­er­at­ing in the mid­dle of a per­son’s skull: a zone where the accuracy of the cur­rent sys­tem is in­ad­e­quate,” said Dr. Paul Rus­sell, as­so­ciate pro­fes­sor of oto­laryn­gol­ogy at Van­der­bilt.

The cap’s key in­gre­di­ent was thanks to Robert Web­ster, an as­so­ciate pro­fes­sor of me­chan­i­cal en­gi­neer­ing and oto­laryn­gol­ogy. He re­mem­bered read­ing of ex­per­i­ments that used cof­fee grounds to help ro­bots grip ob­jects.

The team pre­sented their re­search at the re­cent In­ter­na­tional Con­fer­ence on In­for­ma­tion Pro­cess­ing in Com­puter-As­sisted In­ter­ven­tions.

Grad stu­dent Pa­trick Well­born with the gran­u­lar­jam­ming cap that he helped de­velop.

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