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Local researchers pilot GPS-style tool for surgery

Explaining breakthroughs in medical technology can be difficult. The tools are precise and specialized, and the difference new innovations can make can be hard to grasp.

But here's one that's relatively easy to wrap your head around: researchers at Ryerson University and Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre are piloting a new imaging technology for use during surgery.

The goal is simple: give surgeons a clear and near-instant ability to see exactly what they are doing and where they are going within a person's body during the course of an operation.

"Everyone knows how to use a GPS when they're driving," says Victor Yang, the researcher leading the project.  "This is a GPS for surgeons."

The system, 7D Surgical Navigation, is now a spin-off company, and has started pilot testing in a number of patients.

Essentially the problem until now is that surgeons have had to choose, Yang explains, between operating largely blind, learning about a patient's precise anatomical condition as they go, or ordering images such as x-rays, but having to wait up to 30 minutes during surgery for those images to be developed.

Practice tends to vary from doctor to doctor, with some preferring to wait for x-rays while patient is on the table, and others working much more quickly, but free hand, and thus with less accuracy. 7D allows surgeons to benefit from the accuracy imaging provides, without sacrificing time with patients open on the table—both a cost savings in terms of reducing operating times, and a health benefit since it's generally preferable to keep surgical times to a minimum.

The trials of the new device began in March. So far, 13 patients have been enrolled, with a variety of medical problems: some have tumours in the middle of their brains, some were in car accidents and had broken their spines. The ultimate goal is to have 60 participants in this pilot phase.

"The technology is broadly applicable," Yang says, "but the engineering team that I have is very focused on spine and brain surgeries [at the moment]—these are the surgeries that require highest precision. Afterwords we will go on to ear nose and throat, and then orthopaedic surgeries."

As with all new medical devices 7D will need to clear several regulatory hurdles, including  licensing from Health Canada and the FDA. Yang says his team is aiming to hit those targets within 12-18 months.

Writer: Hamutal Dotan
Source: Victor Yang, lead researcher, 7D Surgical
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