Robotic navigation & 3D-printed implants prevail developments in spinal technology

Key takeaways from the North American Spine Society (NASS) annual meeting in September 2019.

headshot of Brent Ford
Brent Ford

Robotic navigation

Continuing the trend I have seen in recent years, the highlight of the 2019 NASS meeting was robotic navigation. While three years ago there were only a couple of suppliers that had a robot that could navigate for spine surgery, there are now several available, and more in the pipeline. This was the big buzz at this year’s meeting. Additional highlights included:

  • First-to-market manufacturers like Medtronic and Globus Medical offered what is now, in comparison to newer offerings, large and costly pieces of capital equipment. As the technology has developed, new manufacturers, such as 7D Surgical and Brainlab, have entered the space with smaller and less expensive products.
  • Augmented reality, the newest advance in navigation, was also present. This technology allows data from devices such as X-rays, CT scans and MRIs to be uploaded and visually overlaid onto the surgeons’ field of view. Though not yet FDA approved, this advancement has great promise, and I suspect approval is not far off.

Surgical implants & 3D printing

In the surgical implant market, interest in surface technology with spinal implant spacers continues to grow. While this technology has existed for hip and knee implants for years, it has only been developed for the spine in the last five years or so. And though it is only one of many implants used in spinal procedures, interbody spacers are a necessity in the majority of these procedures, which has fueled growth and innovation within this segment.

Because of the proven clinical success and growing demand for interbody spacers with advanced surface technology, competing manufacturers have invested in research and development to bring a similar device to market. The latest iteration has come from 3D printing. Three years ago, few companies offered a 3D printed implant, and now, I’d estimate that 75% of the suppliers that showcased products at NASS presented a 3D printed implant.

As always, HealthTrust stays abreast of market changes. We use this meeting to help us stay in touch with the market and make connections with suppliers so we can assist our members as spinal technology and innovation continue to evolve.

At the time of this writing, Brent Ford was a Clinical Director on the Medical Device Management team at HealthTrust.

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