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FAU Team Builds 3D Human Spine Replica for Cervical Disc Implants

FAU Team Builds 3D Human Spine Replica for Cervical Disc Implants

3D robotic spine "twin" and sensor array could offer a new way to preview surgical interventions.

By Sam Brusco, Associate Editor01.19.22
Florida Atlantic University (FAU)’s Erik Engeberg, Ph.D. and FAU College of Engineering and Computer Science researchers, collaborating with Marcus Neuro Institute director Frank Vrionis, MD, have developed a novel robotic human spine replica to help surgeons preview effects of artificial disc implants prior to the surgery.
 
The 3D printed spine replica was modified to include the artificial disc implant and is outfitted with an array of soft magnetic sensors. The patient-specific model was based on a CT scan of the spine.
 
The disc was “implanted” into the cervical spine replica, with the soft magnet embedded in the replica as well. A robotic arm flexed and extended the replica while the sensor array monitored intervertebral loads to classify spine posture with four different machine learning algorithms. These algorithms classified the amplitude and locations that external loads were applied. The algorithms’ capabilities were then compared to classify five different postures in the replica.
 
The study results (published in Sensors) showed the sensor array had “high capability” to classify the five different spinal postures with 100 percent accuracy. This can be a predictor of different spinal problems people experience. The results indicate the integrated soft magnetics sensor array in the artificial disc implanted, robotically actuated replica can generate physiologically relevant data prior to invasive surgeries.
 
“A flexible magnetic sensor array is a new method to realize soft and stretchable magnets by mixing silicone with magnetic powder,” Dr. Engeberg, a professor, Department of Ocean and Mechanical Engineering within the College of Engineering and Computer Science, member of FAU’s Center for Complex Systems and Brain Sciences within the Charles E. Schmidt College of Science, and a member of the FAU Stiles-Nicholson Brain Institute, told the press. “These sensors are low-cost, highly sensitive, and easily integrated into robotic systems as the soft medium can be manipulated in many shapes and sizes.”
 
The new approach could also assist in post-op cervical disc implant care.
 
“This new approach has a powerful potential to enable surgeons to preview and compare the effects of different surgical interventions in a patient-specific manner using robotically actuated spine twins,” said Vrionis. “Moreover, the novel system could help in determining whether a constrained, semi-constrained, or unconstrained device could be the best fit or even a fusion device. Following surgery, the spine replica could also assist us in estimating whether there is sufficient motion at the operated level and possibly helping us to determine if we need to change the rehabilitation program to prevent calcification and subsequent loss of intended motion.”
 
The researchers also claim this sensor could be paired with CT scans to address spinal malalignment.
 
“Our new approach could provide surgeons with first-hand data to compare the effects of different surgical interventions to treat diseases of the spine before surgery and potentially reduce the rates of complication and failure of artificial disc implantation,” said study co-author Chi-Tay Tsai, Ph.D., a professor in FAU’s Department of Ocean and Mechanical Engineering.

(Thumbnail image courtesy of FAU.)