The History of Robotic Spine Surgery

The use of robotics in spinal surgery is getting a lot of attention these days as a revolutionary medical advance — but the beginnings of robotic spine surgery actually go back almost 20 years, and the roots of robotic surgery in general date back decades. To give some perspective, let’s go through a brief history of robotic spine surgery and how we got to where we are today.

Early Concepts

As early as 1908, scientists were dreaming up the concepts that would serve as the basis for the image guidance required for robot-assisted surgeries. According to the Spine Journal, the term “stereotaxis” was coined at that time by Victor Horsley and Robert Clarke to describe a coordinate system used to identify points in the brain. X-rays had been discovered nearly a decade prior, and through the course of the 20th century this type of imaging evolved into modern computed tomography (CT) in the late 1970s. David Roberts is credited with merging modern stereotaxis with computed tomography in 1986, setting the stage for the navigational concepts behind robotic spine surgery.

Evolution of Robotics in Surgery

Meanwhile, in Canada, researchers were developing what would become the first known surgical robot. As reported by the Medical Post in 1985, Dr. James McEwen and his team at Vancouver General Hospital created a prototype robot based on the work of researchers at the University of British Columbia. It would be another 15 years, however, before the FDA would officially approve the da Vinci Surgical System for general laparoscopic surgery — a move that would usher in the modern era of robot-assisted surgery.

Robotic surgery first entered the spine and neurosurgery field in 2004 with SpineAssist, a robotic system that could place screws with considerable accuracy compared to freehand placement. Over the next decade, additional models would continue to improve on the accuracy rates established before.

Then in August 2017, robotic spine surgery took another leap forward when the FDA cleared ExcelsiusGPS for surgical use. This robotic system integrates navigational technology based on GPS protocols, which not only places implants with incredible accuracy but also recalculates and adapts in real time based on the patient’s most subtle movements. The ExcelsiusGPS sets a new standard for accuracy in minimally invasive robot-assisted spine surgery.

Polaris Spine & Neurosurgery Center is proud to be the first outpatient spinal clinic in the Southeast to offer ExcelsiusGPS as a surgical option for patients. To learn more and see whether you are a good candidate for robotic spine surgery, call us at 404-256-2633.

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