Augmented reality in surgery

A team at Balgrist University Hospital successfully completed the first holographically navigated spine surgery. The technology was developed at Balgrist University Hospital as part of a project involving ETH Zurich researchers.
A team from Balgrist University Hospital successfully performs the world's first holographically navigated spine surgery under the direction of Mazda Farshad (wearing AR glasses). (Photo: Balgrist University Hospital)

After years of research, augmented reality (AR) arrived in the operating theatre. With this, an eminent milestone has been reached. The first ever holographically navigated spine surgery with direct navigation was performed at Balgrist University Hospital at the beginning of December 2020, the university hospital announced.

Mazda Farshad, Surgeon in Chief and Spine Surgeon, carried out the procedure with the help of AR glasses (HoloLens 2). With this first procedure, a randomized controlled clinical study is kicked off to verify the benefit of this surgical innovation. The world-first study marks the peak of the University Medicine Zurich flagship project SURGENT, conducted and led by Mazda Farshad and Mirko Meboldt, Professor of the Product Development Group at ETH Zurich, with strong involvement of Philipp Fürnstahl, Professor at the University of Zurich, alumnus of ETH Zurich and head of the ROCS research team (Research in Orthopedic Computer Science) at Balgrist University Hospital.

AR enhances the surgeon's senses

Using CT imaging, 3D representations of the affected anatomy are generated and directly projected into the surgical field overlaying the real anatomy during the operation. With this, surgeons can see the patient's 3D anatomy. The AR navigation software guides critical step of the surgery. For example, the exact insertion point and trajectory of a screw is shown directly on the patient's anatomy.

“AR enhances the surgeon's senses and improves their perception,” said Farshad, Principal Investigator and Medidcal Director of Balgrist University Hospital. SURGENT co-director Meboldt is also delighted: "The collaboration between visionary medical professionals like Mazda Farshad with the University of Zurich and the ETH is a unique opportunity and forms the basis for this success."

The patient suffered of lower lumbar spine degeneration, a significantly narrowed spinal canal and corresponding strong pain and sensory disorders in the legs. His symptoms were gone after surgery and is doing well: “Regarding some of the pictures, I I'm fascinated that something like that is possible. Therefore, I’m very proud to be the first patient in line.”