Genius Ideas | Develop surgical support tools

Installing a prosthesis is not done by shouting scissors. Take the example of a knee. The surgeon must make bone cuts in the tibia and femur to install the prosthesis. New technologies make it possible to improve the precision of this work. And that’s what Karine Duval, director of robotics R&D at Zimmer Biomet, does on a daily basis.

Posted at 9:00 a.m.

“We are developing tools so that the surgeon can make the best possible cut by allowing him to see in real time on a screen what he has to cut and by helping him to plan his cut”, explains Karine Duval, mechanical engineer.

For example, between 2008 and 2013, she focused on what would become the iAssist Knee. Instead of an infrared camera, the view of which can be obstructed for example by a nurse standing in front of it, the tool uses gravity sensors. “We place them directly on the instrument to be able to position it correctly on the patient’s bone,” she explains. The idea came from my boss, Louis-Philippe Amiot, who is an orthopedic surgeon. This technology was new, so we tried a few things, got it wrong, started over. It took several years to prove the concept and arrive at the finished product. »

A new version of iAssist Knee is about to be released in the market.

Karine Duval is also at the head of a team established in Montpellier and Montreal to continue to develop the Rosa Brain robot. It is often used to treat cases of epilepsy.

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The company Zimmer Biomet, which basically makes prostheses, also invests in the design of tools to help surgeons. The Rosa Brain robot makes it possible to place the electrodes in the cranial box by making only small incisions.

“Traditionally, the surgeon removes part of the skull to install electrodes on the person’s brain and then keep them under observation to see the problem area to be treated,” explains the engineer. Several people were afraid and refused to be treated. Rosa Brain allows placement of electrodes by making only small incisions. This greatly reduces the intervention time, and it is less traumatic. »

Learn to get out of your comfort zone

To carry out her mandates, Karine Duval works with a multidisciplinary team. “We need mechanical engineers, because there is always an instrumentation part, she specifies. We also need software, electrical, biomedical engineers, and often also embedded systems engineers. We are generally about twenty people on projects that last between 18 and 24 months. »

She also works closely with surgeons and suppliers who manufacture the various products. “You have to be very curious and not be afraid to step out of your comfort zone, to talk to the various experts, to ask them questions to make sure you fully understand their issues in order to be able to do your job well” , she explains.

It was first Orthosoft that Karine Duval joined as an intern while she was still completing her bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering at Polytechnique Montréal. The company then had around 40 employees and was acquired by the American company Zimmer Biomet in 2007.

We have shown great rigor and dynamism in developing several products, and Zimmer Biomet, which basically makes prostheses, has subsequently invested heavily in Montreal, especially since 2015.

Karine Duval, Director of Robotics R&D at Zimmer Biomet

So much so that Zimmer Biomet now has around 400 employees in the metropolis.

“We are carrying out several projects and for some, we are now integrating artificial intelligence, for example when we see that it could help to better plan a surgical intervention”, specifies the engineer.

The main market for the surgical assist tools developed by Zimmer Biomet’s Montreal team is the United States, but others are in development, such as Europe, Australia, New Zealand, Japan and, quietly, Canada.

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Genius Ideas | Develop surgical support tools

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