Mayo Clinic Doc: First in Arizona to use augmented reality spinal cord surgery

Mayo Clinic's Dr. Maziyar Kalani says the tool will help train the next generation of doctors.
Published: Jul. 5, 2023 at 10:10 PM MST
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PHOENIX (3TV/CBS 5) — For years, brain surgeons have used augmented reality to help with more accurate and less invasive surgeries. But now, a surgeon at Mayo Clinic is using augmented reality technology for spine surgery.

Doctor Maziyar Kalani removed a tumor from a young mother’s spine. She’s an otherwise fit, healthy woman, and this technology allowed Dr. Kalani to know right where he needed to operate. “We’re talking about a lesion that was the size of a green pea,” he said said.

When Kalani saw the small tumor on his patient’s spinal cord a few months ago, he knew he had to proceed carefully. “We needed to make sure that we not only got in there delicately, but identified this lesion in this area which is not only sensitive but really tough to find,” he said.

Before augmented reality, he would have made a larger incision, removing more bone from the spine to give himself more space to get to the tumor. But doing that increases the chance of long-term spinal instability and potential back pain. So he decided to start small. “You can always add. It’s harder to subtract,” he said. “My incision was probably a third smaller. I took one less bone off of her back.”

Using a combination of MRIs, CT scans, and 3D imaging software to go along with ultrasound technology, Kalani and his team were able to go from evaluating the patient to performing the surgery in a matter of days. On top of the surgery being less invasive, Dr. Kalani says it’s a valuable chance to educate the surgeons and the patients. “It helps us teach the next generation that it’s possible to really exclusively focus on doing operations minimally invasively for the general population,” he said.

In the future, Dr. Kalani anticipates augmented reality helping with not just spinal cancer treatments but more common procedures like repairing pinched nerves. “We’re going to be able to really shrink incisions, all while knowing where everything still is,” he said. “So we don’t damage them on the way in. But as we are doing the procedure, we know they are protected as well.”

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