Doctors just used augmented reality to perform knee replacement surgery

Augmented reality systems (AR) are starting to prove incredibly useful in the medical world. Just last month, doctors completed the first AR-assisted knee replacement surgery in the US. Before we talk more about the surgery, let’s dive a little deeper into what AR actually is.

By now, you’re probably familiar with virtual reality (VR) headsets. When a person puts on one of these VR headsets, everything they see is computer-generated, with the real world being replaced by an artificial world. In contrast, users of AR systems still see whatever is actually around them, but with computer graphics projected on the real world.

Recently, an AR system called NextAR was put to the test in New York for a knee-replacement surgery, which can be a tricky operation as it requires a doctor to precisely place a patient’s artificial implant and then ensure the ligaments around their new knee are balanced. The idea with NextAR is that it will be easier to improve the placement and balancing, thus saving patients from discomfort, pain, or even follow-up surgeries.

In order to use NextAr, the doctors started by uploading CT scans of their patient’s knees before surgery. The system then used the scans to generate 3-D models of the knees.

Next, doctor Jonathan Vigdorchik wore a pair of smart glasses that projected computer-generated graphics on top of the patient’s actual knees to help guide the procedure and provide real-time feedback. For instance, Freethink describes that when Vigdorchik made a cut right where he was supposed to, the computer-generated line guiding the cut would appear green. However, if he veered off course, it would turn red.

“At many time points during the operation (NextAR is) actually providing me information, making sure that my cuts are degree for degree, millimeter for millimeter, accurate,” said Vigdorchik.

In addition, the glasses received location data from sensors positioned above and below the knee joint, thus providing key information that helped Vigdorchik guide the ligament balancing during the procedure.

In the end, the procedure was efficient, effective, and successful, with the patient recovering well. Looking forward, Vigdorchik wants to use the AR system for future surgeries and compare the results with those of traditional knee replacements.

Although this was the first time an AR system was used for a knee-replacement surgery, AR has been used before the medical world. In fact, doctors in Israel recently performed AR-assisted surgery on a patient’s eye socket.

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