Robots to Bring X-rays to Life
March 10, 2006
By: Seth Hays for Shoulder1
Having a pair of robots track your every move might seem like a strange science fiction dream, but in the future this could be the best way doctors get accurate and realistic images of certain orthopedic problems.
University of Florida engineer Scott Bank is developing a system of robotic arms that track and capture X-ray images of joints during everyday activities. “Our goal is to come up with a way to observe and measure how joints are moving when people are actually using them,” Bank said.
The FDA reviews safety and effectiveness data for robotic software and hardware used in healthcare.
In 2000, the FDA approved the first robotic surgical systems.
Almost 14 million visits were made to physicians' offices due to shoulder problems in 2003.
Approximately 56 percent of all visits to a physician for injury are musculoskeletal related.
Advances in the ability to image bone and joint problems have broad repercussions since, according to the American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons, one in seven Americans has a musculoskeletal impairment.
Doctors typically use static X-ray, CT scan or MRI images to diagnose patients with orthopedic problems. X-ray video also exists but it is limited to a controlled laboratory setting. Sometimes surgeons have little information beyond a patient’s verbal complaints.
The dynamic imaging provided by this robotic system could augment these traditional methods, allowing orthopedic surgeons to make better diagnoses, suggest more appropriate treatment options, and to determine the success or failure of operations, Banks said.
This technology could also reduce the need for surgery used to diagnose injuries in joints that manifest pain only in motion.
How it works
The patient performs an activity – walking, rising from a chair, going up stairs or even swinging a bat – between two robotic arms. Guided by cameras set up around the room and a computer system, the robotic arms track an LED-lit patch placed on the joint or area of interest. One robotic arm holds an X-ray emitter while its partner captures the images on the other side of the body.
Even though the robotic arms – typically used in robot-assisted surgery and silicon chip manufacture – are fixed to a base, Banks said, “we could put these robots on wheels and they could follow you around,” opening up the possibility for application to a wide-range of athletic injuries.
Currently the system is in its infancy with only one working model equipped with a video camera instead of an X-ray emitter. Banks has applied for a grant from the National Institutes of Health to continue his research.
But hopes are high that this robotic system will be useful to surgeons. The ability to visualize a joint in motion, as it moves and changes, is the biggest contribution this technology offers, according to project collaborator and orthopedic surgeon Mike Moser. “I think this would be good for many different conditions of the shoulder, knee, elbow and ankle. And I think it could be extrapolated to pretty much any orthopedic injury or condition.”
Last updated: 10-Mar-06