Image-Guided Medical Robotics Program

Program Lead: Dr. Garnette Sutherland

With the successful launch of the world’s first intraoperative MRI (iMRI) technology based on ceiling-mounted moveable high field magnet (Siemens, Germany) developed by Dr. Garnette Sutherland, the Seaman Family MR Research Centre at University of Calgary - Foothills Medical Centre was established in the mid 1990s. In addition to the iMRI suite, the centre houses an interlinked MR research program based on a fixed 3.0T magnet (GE, USA). While the latter has expanded to a world-class entity on advanced clinical imaging research including stroke and more recently MR-guided focus ultrasound technology for patient care, the iMRI system enjoyed global uptake through a Canadian spin-off, IMRIS Inc. (now IMRIS-Deerfield, MN, USA), with over 76 international sites servicing >40,000 patients.

The iMRI environment further gave rise to another world’s first—the image-guided MR-compatible robot called neuroArm. Again developed by Dr. Sutherland in collaboration with MacDonald, Dettwiler and Associates, Brampton ON, (MDA built Canadarm and Dextre), neuroArm is Canada’s gift to the world of medical robotics, in particular for microsurgery and stereotaxy within the iMRI suite. Project neuroArm, the internationally visible Image-guided Medical Robotics Program at the University of Calgary, was born through this technology and continues to advance robotics and smart technologies for surgery. With neuroArm continuing to be used in neurosurgical patients at the Foothills Medical Centre, and SYMBIS (second generation neuroArm, FDA approved for stereotaxy, IMRIS-Deerfield MN, USA), the team has just launched the build of the third generation neuroArm robot called the neuroArmPLUS.

Pipeline Technologies - Robotics and Intelligent Systems

The neuroArmPLUS: Year 2018 marked the 10-year anniversary of the neuroArm robot performing its first surgery in a young Calgarian mother with complex brain tumour. Endorsed as a strategic priority project of the University of Calgary, and through a targeted fundraising initiative and recruitment, its first project milestone came in December 2019 (critical design requirement for final blue print). The neuroArmPLUS is a compact, efficient and intelligent robotic system for brain surgery and whole body applications. The system will incorporate the recently developed microsurgery-specific haptic handcontroller, Excalibur, as the intuitive human-machine interface. Funded through the CHRP-NSRC grant and now with a patent and four manuscripts at various stages of review, the team is completing manipulator design, smart software and control algorithms.  OrbSurgical Ltd., in deploying neuroArmPLUS for global adoption, has once again used the Build Local – Go Global Calgary! mantra and brought together three other Calgary-based companies in this exciting journey. Sustained collaborations-consultation with MDA Canada, IMRIS USA, Medtronic USA, Bissinger Germany and Stryker USA remain important for marketing strategy, quality assurance and regulatory standards.

The SmartForceps System: Year 2019 saw the medical grade clinical translation of the SmartForceps System—a force-sensing surgical bipolar forceps for real-time measurement, recording and display of tool-tissue interaction forces during surgery. It was systematically tested and validated with multiple pre-clinical and clinical publications in multiple high impact journals, including JAMA Surgery. The technology has also received approval from provincial (German Canadian Centre for Innovation & Research) and federal funding agencies (CIHR). A partnership was forged with Bissinger GmbH Germany and Quadrus Inc. Calgary, to produce a minimum viable product, owned by OrbSurgical Ltd. (a Project neuroArm spin-off), and it is being reviewed by Health Canada. It is approved for ethics and in use at the Foothills Medical Centre. The technology is projected to hit the market in the first quarter of 2020.

Linked research & Development (R&D):  The principle theme of Project neuroArm remains “Seeing what you cannot see; Feeling what you cannot feel; Hearing what you cannot hear—the augmented reality for robotics and linked technologies”. All ongoing R&D fall under one or more of these principal philosophy and include but are not restricted to: 

  1. Molecular Neuroscience-Brain Tumour and Trauma (Seeing what you cannot see): Years of investigation and innovation, and patent protected collaborative work with NRC Ottawa, has allowed the ongoing molecular and genetic interrogation of CNS disorders, including brain tumour, trauma and neurodegenerative disease. This venture is well aligned to develop ideal cell-specific contrast agents for intra-operative visualization and/or diagnostics.
  2. Computer Science/Simulation/Software (Feeling what you cannot feel): In-house and acquired haptic technologies and interfaces allow for advanced surgical performance and training paradigms. 
  3. Atomic Force Microscopy-Vibrational Profiling of CNS Neoplasia (Hearing what you cannot hear): Internal collaboration with a microscopy and imaging facility has enabled the translation-modulation of nanoscale cellular frequency to the hearing domain. Inclusion of this acoustic signature into the ongoing evolution of the smart toolset and probes for neuroArmPLUS remains a formidable yet exciting pursuit. 
  4. Back to Space (perhaps: Being where you cannot presently be!): In tune with the University of Calgary’s New Earth-Space Technologies (NEST), and as an homage to the space heritage of neuroArm technology, the project RAST (Robot-Assisted Space Telemetry) has a long-term vision of advancing and applying the neuroArm telerobotic platform back to space! Aligning with NASA’s Deep Space Exploration and recent Lunar Gateway Mission (CSA-MDA for Canadarm3), the team has aspirations of a lightweight tele-operated robot (a version of neuroArmPLUS) in the International Space Station or beyond—with a control station here on Earth. 

Recognition-Highlight: In May 2019, Dr. Garnette Sutherland was awarded (along with six other recipients) the Governor General Innovation Award for his technological innovations in improving patient care. This recognition from Her Excellency the Right Honourable Julie Payette, Governor General of Canada and the Rideau Foundation, highlight and celebrate the far-reaching implications of these Calgary led innovations. 

Contemporary interest in robotics and linked digital innovation for surgical performance and training was further endorsed through an invited lectureship (Dr. Garnette Sutherland – a Minnesota Life Science Alley Luminary Award Recipient 2011) to foster the NeuroRobotics Network at the University of Minnesota in November 2019.

Members (Includes only active collaborators and students/trainees)

Engineering: Hamidreza Hoshyarmanesh, Amir Baghdadi, Mohammadsaleh Razmi, Mojtaba Esfandiari, Starr Tze (Chief Consultant), Chris Macnab, Qiao Sun, Yaoping Hu, Salvatore Federico, Mahdi Tavakoli, Ekram Hossein, Kazi Ishfaq Ahmed, Rachael L’Orsa, Don Peterson

Science: Dustin Proctor (in Clinical Biochemistry sabbatical), Jordan Huang, Fahad Iqbal, Sonny Chan, Boguslaw Tomanek, Mehdi Arbabi, Frank van Veggel, Matthias Amrein, Guido van Marle 

Medicine: Andrea Becking, Melissa Nielsen, Joseph Dort, Francis Sutherland, Andrew Kirkpatrick, Paul McBeth, Abdulrahman Albakr, Madeleine de Lotbiniere-Bassett, Fangwei Yang, Phil Park, Sanju Lama, Garnette Sutherland

Administrative Support: Miwa Shibuya, Caara Kardell

Industrial Partners: MDA (Brampton, ON); Deerfield-IMRIS (Minnetonka, MN); Medtronic (Minneapolis, MN); Stryker Corporation (Kalamazoo MI); Bissinger GmbH (Teningen Germany); Quadrus Devt. Inc. (Calgary); OrbSurgical Ltd. (Calgary)

Institutional Partners: National Research Council Canada, Canadian Space Agency, University of Manitoba, University of Alberta, University of Victoria, Queen’s University, University of Vienna - Austria, Hokkaido University School of Medicine - Sapporo, Japan.

The Project neuroArm (and OrbSurgical Ltd. ) team acknowledges the multiple funding institutions (provincial, federal, international), individuals, families and foundations for their generous support and trust in Project neuroArm’s ongoing endeavours; special thanks to all DCNS, and section of neurosurgery members for support and participation in ongoing clinical integration and projects. 

(Updated December 2019)