Degenerative disc disease affects about 40 percent of people aged 40, increasing to about 80 percent among those aged 80 or older. The disease, which is the deterioration of one or more intervertebral discs of the spine, often is surgically treated with cervical disc implants.
In order to determine if a patient is a candidate for a cervical disc implant, surgeons have to rely primarily on the findings of diagnostic imaging studies, without any input from biomechanical data to optimize the type of prosthesis. This may occasionally lead to complications and implant failure.
To address these problems, Florida Atlantic University’s Erik Engeberg, Ph.D., senior author of the study, and researchers from the College of Engineering and Computer Science , in collaboration with Frank Vrionis, M.D., senior author of the study and director of the Marcus Neuroscience Institute, part of Baptist Health, have created a novel robotic replica of a human spine to enable surgeons to preview the effects of surgical interventions prior to the operation.
The researchers have developed a 3D printed spine replica modified to include an artificial disc implant and outfitted with a soft magnetic sensor array. The Marcus Neuroscience Institute has its hub on Boca Raton Regional Hospital’s campus and satellite locations at Bethesda Hospital in Boynton Beach and Deerfield Beach.
The patient-specific robotic spine model was based on a CT scan of the human spine. A modified artificial disc was ‘implanted’ into the cervical spine replica and the soft magnet was embedded in the vertebra replica. A robotic arm flexed and extended the cervical spine replica while the intervertebral loads were monitored with the soft magnetic sensor array to classify the spine posture with four different machine-learning algorithms. The algorithms classified the amplitude and the locations that external loads were applied. Researchers then compared the capabilities of the algorithms to classify five different postures of the human spine robotic replica (center, mid-flexion, flexion, mid-extension and extension).
Results of the study, published in the journal Sensors, showed that the soft magnetic sensor array system had the high capability to classify the five different postures of the spine with 100 percent accuracy, which can be a predictor of different problems of the spine that people experience. These results indicate that the integration of the soft magnetic sensor array within the artificial disc ‘implanted,’ robotically actuated spine replica has the potential to generate physiologically relevant data before invasive surgeries, which could be used preoperatively to assess the suitability of a particular intervention for specific patients.
Image Credit: Gisele Galoustian / Florida Atlantic University