Surgeons use 3D X-rays to check the results before the patient has left the operating room. One issue with currently available 3D X-ray systems, such as C-arms, is that they interfere with the surgeon’s work. The X-ray source and detector have to move in circles around the patient, which takes up a lot of space. If the C-arm were installed on the operating table permanently, it would impede access to patients. That means that the device must be wheeled over to the operating table to capture the images and then moved out of the way again. Although this does help to avoid possible complications, it unfortunately also means interrupting the surgery.
Researchers at the Fraunhofer Institute for Production Systems and Design Technology IPK are currently working on a solution to this problem: a 3D X-ray system that can be integrated seamlessly into operating procedure — with no more forced interruptions. Together with the Charité – Universitätsmedizin Berlin university hospital and Ziehm Imaging GmbH, the researchers are developing ORBIT, a 3D X-ray scanner that can be integrated into operations and does not cause any delays.
ORBIT is made up of three modules: There is a maneuverable X-ray source fitted to an articulated bracket. This swivel arm can be attached to the ceiling or mounted on a wheeled stand for mobile applications, but either way the X-ray scans are always carried out from above. There is a digital flat panel detector recessed into the operating table. Finally, there is a monitor — either mobile or wall-mounted — to display the X-ray images.
“Unlike existing three-dimensional imaging procedures, ORBIT doesn’t have to surround the patient to capture images. Instead, it’s an open system in which the X-ray source follows a circular path above the operating table. This makes capturing images much quicker, because it does away with time-consuming preparations,” said Prof. Dr.-Ing. Erwin Keeve of the Berliner Zentrum für Mechatronische Med izintechnik, a center founded by the IPK and Charité. “It takes about 15 minutes to bring a C-arm into position, record individual projected images of the patient and then convert them into 3D image data. Since Xray scanning takes less time with ORBIT, it speeds up the overall surgical procedure. Plus it’s an easier system to use, which means doctors will be more inclined to make this diagnostic tool a routine part of their work,” Keeve explained.
The device also offers another big advantage: While implants and screws can cause interference in C-arm scans, ORBIT images feature far fewer artifacts caused by these metal objects because its X-ray source and its detector do not move in the same plane.
Thus far, initial experiments have been a success. The researchers have filed a patent application for this system. Construction of an initial prototype is currently underway and comprehensive testing will take place this year. The system is set to be ready for market in three to five years’ time.