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New AR Glasses Used in Holographically-Navigated Spine Surgery

A spine surgery navigated holographically through the use of augmented reality (AR) technology was successfully performed at the Balgrist University Hospital in Zürich, Switzerland. The surgery was reportedly the world’s first holographically navigated spine surgery with direct navigation and the first in a randomized clinical study of the technology.

HoloLens was developed by Balgrist ROCS (Research in Orthopedic Computer Science) and Incremed, a university startup. Microsoft serves as a technology partner. The AR glasses draw on CT imaging to generate and display 3D representations of a patient’s anatomy. The technology is designed to guide surgeons through critical points during surgery with increased precision and awareness. Data gleaned from the glasses during surgery is collected and analyzed to improve future surgical procedures.

“AR enhances the surgeon’s senses and improves their perception,” said Dr. Mazda Farshad, the spine surgeon who performed the surgery and Head of the SURGENT Flagship Project and Medical Director of Balgrist University Hospital.

“Prof. Farshad and the Incremed team are using our HoloLens exactly as we always imagined: A technology that enables people – in this case a doctor – to operate more precisely, faster, and safer,” said Marc Pollefeys, Head of the Microsoft Mixed Reality & AI Lab and Professor at the Institute for Visual Computing at the ETH Zurich. “We are very proud of this great success of the team and hope to move on to the next phase of the study soon.”

Lower lumbar spine degeneration and a narrowed spinal canal made the first patient a prime candidate for the pioneering technology. The study, approved by Swissmedic, will include complex spinal cases with or without holographic navigation, following a randomization procedure.

The AR-enhanced surgery is the result of years of research and is representative of a burgeoning trend in orthopedics, and specifically spine. In 2020, Augmedics launched its FDA 510(k)-cleared xvision, an AR guidance system for spinal surgery. Also in 2020, Surgalign acquired HoloSurgical and its ARAI technology, an AR and artificial intelligence-driven surgical navigation system. While Surgalign is pursuing regulatory clearance, the technology has been successfully used in surgical procedures.