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New Zealand Bioengineers use Artificial Intelligence to Revolutionise Hip Surgery

In a groundbreaking move, a company that grew out of recent research done at the Auckland Bioengineering Institute (ABI) is set to transform orthopaedic surgery using Artificial Intelligence (AI).  The procedure could be the world’s first automated 3D pre-operative planner for joint replacements.

The number of hip and knee replacement surgeries in New Zealand has been increasing over time. There were 8785 primary hip replacement surgeries and 7765 primary knee replacement surgeries performed in 2016, compared to 4114 and 2429 in 1999. Data shows hip replacement procedures poses an increasing burden to the healthcare system. Usually, top health complications that lead to a hip replacement are:

  • Osteoarthritis (most common)
  • Rheumatoid arthritis
  • Osteonecrosis (avascular necrosis)
  • An injury such as a hip fracture
  • Tumour in the hip joint

While a hip replacement may sound common, it never is an easy procedure. The human body is a complex set of systems that need to be integrated into one dynamic whole. Today, the most common complications specific to hip replacement surgery include loosening or dislocation of the implant and a slight difference in leg length.

Globally, the statistics are worrisome. One in five knee replacements are unsatisfactory and one in ten hip replacements need revision, which ends up costing the orthopaedic industry US $10 billion per year.

The New Zealand bioengineer behind the trendsetting orthopaedic surgery confirmed this. He disclosed that though most of us know someone that has had a joint replacement, only a few know just how complex, variable, and costly the process can be.

You wouldn’t try to build a car without knowing the right parts that fit and it shouldn’t be any different when it comes to joint replacement surgery. Half of these hip replacement surgeries fail because they’re the wrong size or positioned incorrectly.

– Auckland Bioengineering Institute Hip Replacement Researcher

 And that’s exactly why the novel AI-based orthopaedic surgery procedure was created. Traditionally, surgeons rely on 2D x-rays to estimate the best size and orientation of implants ahead of surgery. As the process relies on manual image processing, it can take weeks and can be subject to a wide latitude of human errors.

With the help of technology, the room for error is largely diminished. The novel software allows for 3D pre-operative planning that is personalised to each patient, thanks to AI. With it, surgeons can identify the right size and the right angle of orientation for each implant. So, the right-sized stem and the right-sized socket can easily be identified, for instance.

ABI is a New Zealand research institute aided and funded by the government of New Zealand via the Ministry of Business (MBIE) and by external research grants. The goal is to improve medical diagnosis and treatment of injury and disease.

The new venture is founded by researchers from the ABI research institute. Already, the company has raised the US$ 5 million to commercialise its cloud-based fully interactive platform that provides surgeons with an automated 3D and patient-specific planner for hip and other joint replacement surgeries

It’s but logical that medical institutions and businesses in New Zealand use the best of what digital technology can offer. The country has been taking huge strides towards digital transformation these days. Such commitment is bound to trickle down to every sector of society. Lately, the Pacific nation has declared its intention of overhauling its technology sector with a comprehensive road map called the Industry Transformation Plan (ITP). What makes this plan unique is Wellington allows every stakeholder to take part and pitch in their own ideas.

It comes as no surprise, then, that the private sector in Aoteroa is leaning heavily towards technology. As reported on OpenGov Asia, another set of researchers from New Zealand is using artificial intelligence to fight glaucoma.

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