Calgary Health Foundation

Project neuroArm

Project NeuroArmWhen the first neuroArm™ surgical robot came to Calgary in 2004 after a successful fundraising campaign spearheaded by Calgary Health Trust, it revolutionized how surgery is performed and taught in Calgary.

neuroArm™ - the world's first image-guided MRI compatible surgical robot - was created by Calgary's Dr. Garnette Sutherland, a neurosurgeon at Foothills Medical Centre, and MacDonald, Dettwiler and Associates Ltd., a leader in space robotics and the company responsible for creating Canadarm and Canadarm2.

This technological breakthrough forever changed neurosurgery in Calgary by helping doctors create the best possible conditions for their patients. neuroArm™'s robotic appendages, which are controlled by neurosurgeons seated at a surgical workstation, utilize tools smaller than those that surgeons would use during neurosurgery and can manipulate tools in ways the human hand can't. In addition, the robot performs surgery inside the magnet of an MRI system so that surgery and imaging can occur simultaneously.

"Surgeons have been pushed to the limit of dexterity and stamina," says Dr. Sutherland, who recently received the Order of Canada for his contributions to neurosurgery. "Imagine a surgery as delicate as removing a tumour from within the spinal cord. This is a repetitive process that requires great attention to detail. It is understandable, then, how a surgical robot like neuroArm™, which is programmable for these kind of tasks, is ideally suited for surgeries that require an incredible amount of precision."

In addition to its incredible precision, the technology - coupled with three-dimensional imaging capabilities - allows surgeons to target and operate on tumours previously considered inoperable. Rare and difficult surgeries can also be pre-planned on a neuroArm™ simulator, allowing surgeons to practice complex surgeries in a risk-free, virtual environment so they gain experience for performing these surgeries in real life.

neuroArm™ was first used for neurosurgery on May 12, 2008. The patient, 21-year-old Paige Nickason, made a full recovery after having a tumour removed from her brain. This resulted in more than 300,000 articles appearing in print and internet-based media, including The Economist, The London Times, The Globe and Mail and The New York Times, bringing world-wide attention to Calgary. To date, neuroArm™ has been used for more than 30 brain surgeries in Calgary. Dr. Sutherland and a team of industry leaders are also currently in the process of building the second generation neuroArm™ robot.