Physician Discovers New Ways to Use Guided Navigation Technology

Technology can, and has, improved many medical procedures, but sometimes good technology isn't enough in and of itself. Houston Public Radio's Rod Rice reports on a Houston physician who discovered a new way to use "guided navigation technology."

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Guided navigation technology is used by orthopedic surgeons to align an artificial joint with greater precision. A better fit means less wear on the implant and therefore a longer implant life. Dr. Albert Cuellar is an orthopedic surgeon at KSF Orthopedic Center. He says guided navigation technology is very good and a great improvement in knee replacement surgery. It improves both joint stability and range of motion by improving, by a millimeter or two, the location of the knee replacement. Here's how it works.

"We attach markers, if you will, or trackers, and the trackers relay information from the anatomy to a camera and this is done using infrared technology. The data that's coming in to the infra-red camera is actually location data. It can locate your bone in space, and then you have a pointer that you can actually locate specific markers or specific anatomic points in the knee."

That information goes into a computer that does all the calculations and shows the data in graphic and numeric form on a screen so that very precise joint placement is possible. The problem, as Dr. Cuellar saw it was the way the guided navigation technology was used.

"The current technology requires the surgeon to place pins in the thigh bone, about the mid or lower thigh, in addition to pins going into the tibia or leg bone below the knee."

Dr Cuellar says by rearranging a few things he came up with a technique that does not require the use of pins above and below the knee. About 18 months ago he wrote a protocol for his less invasive technique and sent it off to Stryker, a large multi-national company that among other things makes guided navigational technology. To his surprise, they were interested.

"They actually looked at it and they read it and they were so intrigued because the entire world, if you will, of all these companies that make navigation equipment, are actually looking at it from a different point of view."

Dr. Cueller says his background in programming and engineering helped him see the process from a different perspective so that an already good technology could be improved by the way it was used.

"It's second nature for me to look at a problem like this, analyze it, and be able to use their technology essentially to make it more user friendly for the surgeon, and the person that actually benefits is the patient."

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Rod Rice

Local Anchor, Morning Edition

Rod Rice became fascinated with radio at an early age, while sitting on his Grandfather’s lap listening to his "programs" on the big Emerson Radio...