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HomeTechnology & ScienceRobotic arm helps with spinal surgery for the 1st time in Canada

Robotic arm helps with spinal surgery for the 1st time in Canada


With a few small, precise movements, Canadian medical history was made last week in Halifax as the first spinal robotic surgery was performed at the QEII Health Sciences Centre.

A robotic arm was used to place titanium screws and rods in three vertebrae. The surgery relieved pressure on nerves that were causing pain, said Dr. Sean Christie, the neurosurgeon who performed the surgery.

Christie said the procedure would still have been possible without the robotic arm, but it allows surgery to be faster and more precise. It can also mean less pain for patients, less impact on healthy tissues and a quicker recovery time.

“If you’re trying to put a three- or five-millimetre screw into a trajectory and if you just move your hand that little bit, you can change the degree or angle,” said Christie. “You want to have that accuracy and this enhances that substantially.” 

Christie said the surgical team was very excited in the days leading up to the operation and were satisfied with how it went.

Dr. Sean Christie is the neurosurgeon who performed the spinal surgery with the help of a robotic arm. (Mark Crosby/CBC)

“The patient was even very excited about it and to be the first person to be done,” said Christie.

Christie said he spoke to the patient Wednesday morning and her pain has resolved. He said she is excited to start rehab and get strong.

Spinal cord injuries is another area the QEII team is interested in researching, said Christie.

QEII Foundation president and CEO Susan Mullin says the robotic spinal surgery will show Nova Scotians there is leading-edge care in the province. (Mark Crosby/CBC)

“One of the main things for spine injuries is to remove pressure off the spinal cord. So the concepts and the applications are very similar to what we’re currently using the robot for. That’s why I think it’s a very short step to start using this technology on those sorts of injuries.”

The $3-million initiative is entirely funded by donors through the QEII Foundation. It’s hoped the robotic arm could bring more benefits to Nova Scotia’s health-care system by taking people off future wait-lists. 

Christie said after a traditional spinal operation, more stress can be added to other parts of the spine and that means a significant number of people need another surgery in the future. 

“Early reports, and what we’re really hoping for with this technology, is that we can reduce that by more than 50 per cent of people coming back.” 

For now, Christie says they are looking at getting more people through the operating room with the robotic arm.

“The spinal [surgical] robot is really going to help us demonstrate to the public the fact that we do have leading-edge care here in Halifax at the QEII Health Sciences Centre,” said Susan Mullin, the president and CEO of the QEII Foundation. 

The spinal robotic surgery is another in a series of robot-assisted surgeries being used by Nova Scotia Health since 2019.

Mullin said she also hopes the new technology and growing robotics team will help attract doctors to the province.


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