Research & Innovation

Precise surgeries using innovative microrobotic technology developed by students at Stevens

Low-back pain leads to 15 million physician visits every year and creates a severe financial burden, costing society more than $15 billion annually. Lumbar microdiscectomy has become the most common spinal surgical procedure, with over 750,000 procedures performed annually. In a microdiscectomy, small portions of bone and/or disc material are removed from the spine to relieve neural impingement.

Five Mechanical Engineering students from Stevens Institute of Technology have designed a robotic medical device that allows for precise simultaneous control of multiple tools in minimally invasive surgical procedures such as microdiscectomies.

“The biggest drawback of currently available robotic surgical devices is they are too large to perform multiple controlled actions simultaneously within confined spaces during minimally invasive spinal surgery (MISS),” says professor of Mechanical Engineering Dr. David Cappelleri, who advised the team. “Based on the needs of orthopaedic surgeons and the market, the group developed the first microrobotic solution for surgeries of this kind.”

The team, which includes Tyler Alcorn, Trevor Jaye, Brendan Lowe, Kaitlin McClymont, and Ben Watkins, named their project Nevros.  The micro-robotic technology is capable of performing multiple tasks at once via the synchronous manipulation of two end-effectors which essentially act as the “hands” of the device.

“Nevros was specifically designed for a transforaminal operation on the spine, but since it requires minimal amounts of space to function, it can be further applied to minimally invasive surgical procedures located at various other anatomical regions, such as the upper abdomen or groin,” says Kaitlin.

The team designed Nevros modularly allowing for a quick-assembly system and disposable pieces to reduce costs and improve sterilization. “The end-effectors could be replaced with different tools depending on the surgical procedure,” says Trevor.

Nevros goes beyond the standard of current MISS procedures by introducing a novel method of achieving actuation within the body utilizing single port access (SPA). While many robotic-assisted surgeries required multiple incisions for access, Nevros only needs one. “SPA has been shown to accelerate recovery time and improve the quality of life of patients after surgery and it minimizes the necessary steps and tools required of typical surgical practices,” says Tyler.

The initial prototype has two fully functional robotic arms with a 70 degree conical range of motion, and is currently being examined through various FEA analyses and lab testing for mechanical integrity of all components. “Cable-actuated mechanisms controlled by robotics allow manipulation of the end-effectors to mimic a surgeon’s own hands,” says Ben. “We are currently improving the device to allow for additional axes of movement.”

The team recently won 1st Place in the International Society for Pharmaceutical Engineering (ISPE) New Jersey Chapter Undergraduate Poster Competition for their work on Nevros and will be competing in the international ISPE competition in November. Trevor presented the team's work at the American Society of Mechanical Engineers District A Student Professional Development Conference at New York Institute of Technology and won third place in the Old Guard Oral Presentation competition. They continue to explore future IP and patent possibilities to further develop the technology.

The close-knit team worked in previous classes and projects, and therefore knew how to best collaborate. They began researching the problem and understanding MISS procedures in the summer of 2012, consulting directly with Englewood-based orthopaedic surgeon Dr. Brian Cole, who first thought of the project.

“The name Nevros is inspired from an ancient Greek word meaning ‘puppet’ which we found very appropriate for this project,” says Brendan.

The Nevros prototype was displayed at the Stevens Innovation Expo alongside hundreds of other innovative technologies, products, services and businesses.

Learn more by visiting the School of Engineering and Science, or visit Undergraduate Admissions or Graduate Admissions to apply.