Article from Surgery International online magazine.
A prototype technology designed to reduce the risks of spinal fusion surgery could be
commercially available as early as next year.
The cutting-edge prototype device and software also offer remote postoperative monitoring,
raising the bar for patient care.
Associate Professor Debbie Munro of the University of Canterbury in Christchurch, New
Zealand, unveiled her solution to the inherent challenges of the procedure earlier this month.
Cover of Surgery International online magazine
A high failure rate often plagues spinal fusion surgery and can occur within five years.
Associate Professor Munro has been on a relentless quest to enhance the outcome of spinal
fusion surgery for two decades.
Her prototype device attaches to the rod inserted during the operation, similar to a strain
To complement this hardware, she has also invented a wireless sensor and sophisticated
software to interpret the gauge’s outputs, thereby determining the success of the fusion.
The current challenge surgeons face in spinal fusion surgery lies in the uncertainty of its
success until months after the operation, typically around the four-month mark when it
becomes visible on an X-ray.
In New Zealand, the situation is even more precarious, as patients are not routinely subjected
to postoperative X-rays unless they experience severe pain after 12 weeks.
Associate Professor Munro’s device aims to turn the tables on this dilemma.
She explained: ‘When the sensor is first implanted, it should display the maximum strain. If
my software shows no strain, the surgeon knows it hasn’t worked and can address the issue
before closing up the patient.’
This early detection could prevent a second, highly invasive surgery, sparing patients the
ordeal of bone grafts and further complications.
Additionally, once deemed successful, the device will continue to play a pivotal role in the
patient’s recovery journey, offering a tangible way for them to track their progress.
This is particularly crucial, as spinal fusion surgery necessitates weeks of bedrest – a
challenging regimen for many patients, especially those in physically demanding jobs.
What makes this technology even more promising is its potential for remote monitoring.
Associate Professor Munro envisions a future where patients can scan the surgical site
themselves, with the data transmitted directly to the surgeon.
Face-to-face appointments would only be necessary in the event of an issue, making
healthcare more accessible and convenient.
The device and its accompanying software boast long-term advantages, as they require no
batteries, eliminating the risk of leakage.
Furthermore, in case of accidents, individuals with the implant can quickly assess whether the
fusion has been impacted, offering a sense of security and peace of mind.
Associate Professor Munro also believes this technology could find applications beyond
spinal fusion, potentially extending to monitoring hip and knee replacements for signs of
Further testing is planned, with the device possibly ready for commercial interest as early as
Spine surgery fusion rates continue to increase worldwide due to new developments in spine
fusion procedures and surgical techniques, improved implants and interbody devices, and
advancements in complication prevention strategies. Lumbar degenerative disc disease is the
most common diagnosis for spine fusion surgery.
According to a literature review in 2020, how this increasing upward trend will affect
healthcare systems worldwide is ‘one of the important future questions’.