3-D Tracking for Lung Surgery
Patent No. 6,593,884
INVENTION: A system for visually tracking the locations of bronchoscopes used in lung biopsies
BENEFIT: Allows safer and far less invasive biopsies
Every year, roughly three million people worldwide face the ordeal of lung biopsy. As often as possible, doctors performing the procedure use bronchoscopes, instruments snaked into the lungs that carry tiny cameras and surgical tools. The bronchoscope means the biopsy can be done with minimal danger and trauma to the patient. But half the time, the suspected tumor lies so deep in a complex maze of airways that the physician can’t reach it. The alternative is an incision through the chest, an operation that increases the danger of collapsed lungs, infection, and even death.
A new image-processing and guidance technology, patented last year by superDimension of Herzliya, Israel, could allow the use of bronchoscopes in far more lung biopsies. The system starts with existing technology that creates 3-D lung images from computerized-tomography (CT) scans. The company’s innovation is a method for tracking the location of the bronchoscope in the lung and correlating this information with the 3-D image. A sensor at the bronchoscope’s tip wirelessly reports its location to an antenna on a board beneath the patient. As a result, software is able to superimpose the position of the bronchoscope on the virtual 3-D image of the lung, allowing the surgeon to more easily guide the instrument into smaller airways. “With today’s practice, many times we can see the problem, but we can’t get to it. With this new technique, we can actually go there and see where we are, where we need to be, and which path to take to get us to our target,” says David Feller-Kopman, a pulmonary specialist at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston. “It is the future of bronchoscopy.”
The system is already approved for use in Europe, where superDimension launched it last fall, and it is now used in Germany and other countries. Approval by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration is expected this summer. SuperDimension says it will market the software and hardware system on its own. The company says that if all goes well, the technology could allow bronchoscope-based procedures in 80 percent of lung biopsies, up from about 50 percent today. If that prediction holds true, and the technology becomes universally available, nearly one million people would be spared major lung surgery every year. -Patric Hadenius