Two Pioneering Spinal Surgeons at Illinois Bone & Joint Institute are Taking a Robot into the Operating Room

  • Illinois Bone & Joint Institute

    Illinois Bone & Joint Institute

Updated 8/15/2018 8:24 AM

As a society, we are becoming increasingly accustomed to the growing roles automation, robotics and artificial intelligence play in our daily lives. We are turning to robots to park our cars, manage our investment portfolios and serve as our personal assistants -- and now, to provide an unprecedented level of surgical precision, as well.

Two of Chicagoland's surgeons have led the way.


Illinois Bone & Joint Institute's (IBJI) Dr. Thomas Gleason and Dr. Steven M. Mardjetko, who practice out of the group's Morton Grove office, are two of the first doctors in Illinois trained to use the Mazor X System -- a robotic guidance system that combines advanced software, robotic technology, and instrumentation. The doctors say Mazor X facilitates their ability to perform finite surgical procedures.

We sat down with Dr. Gleason and Dr. Mardjetko to learn more about this groundbreaking technology and why these two top surgeons believe a robot can benefit their patients.

Q: When did you first become interested in exploring the spine?

Dr. Gleason: I really discovered my fascination with the spine during my residency. Spinal conditions can obviously have a huge impact on people's lives in terms of mobility challenges, chronic pain and so forth. However, most spinal conditions can be easily treated -- whether through surgery or non-surgical options. So those aspects appealed to me.

Q: What do you think about the modern use of surgical robotics?

Dr. Mardjetko: Surgical robots have been around for a long time, but the technology has really advanced over the last couple years in terms of both accuracy and speed, while also reducing patient exposure during surgery. Mazor X is one of the first spinal assistance robots to make a huge difference in the field.

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Q: How do you use Mazor X during surgeries?

Dr. Gleason: We start out in advance of the procedure by taking a 3D X-ray of the patient's spine via Mazor X's advanced imaging system -- the robots 'eyes,' if you will. That X-ray serves as a pre-operative computerized roadmap of the patient's spine, which enables us to pre-plan the incisions and the placing of screws with an unprecedented level of accuracy. In addition to providing advanced imaging to help surgeons develop effective game plans for their patients, Mazor X takes the next step by going into the operating room to provide hands-on support during surgeries.

Dr. Mardjetko: Once we're in the operating room, Mazor X helps to guide the surgeon to the preplanned anatomical location where surgical intervention is necessary. In other words, its 'arm' lines the surgeon up to deliver an incision or place a screw at the exact position in the patient's body that was identified by the advanced imaging system -- down to the millimeter. Let's be clear, the surgeon is in full control of the system all times and can perform the procedure with or without the robot -- but why not use a technology that can increase accuracy so effectively?

Q: What kind of spinal surgeries would benefit from the use of Mazor X?

Dr. Gleason: Any situation where precision is key -- that covers pretty much all spinal procedures.

Q: You are two of the first spinal surgeons in Illinois to learn how to use this robot. Why were you so bullish on the technology?

Dr. Gleason: The results speak for themselves. Like Dr. Mardjetko said, we can perform the surgeries with or without Mazor X, but the technology is incredibly helpful in increasing our precision, which means faster and more effective surgeries, translating to better results for patients. Undergoing training to use the technology seemed like a no brainer -- especially because using it does not translate to additional costs for our patients.


Dr. Mardjetko: In addition, the robot takes a measure of stress off the surgeon because we have the support of the advanced imaging and alignment systems. Spinal surgery is obviously a very high-stakes situation, so there's a lot of value in providing the surgeon with a support system.

Q: Just how much more accurate is Mazor X than a human?

Dr. Mardjetko: Mazor X increases the precision and the accuracy of a surgeon's movements to approximately one millimeter. We were incredibly accurate before the technology -- but this raises our accuracy to where we are now, I would estimate, hitting a 98 percent accuracy rate as it relates to exact positioning of a spinal device -- and when it comes to back pain and mobility, those few points can make a world of difference.

Q: How have your patients responded to procedures supported by Mazor X?

Dr. Gleason: It is so incredible to see the difference in patient's quality of life. So many of the patients we see initially can't walk without pain or without contorting their bodies to relieve pressure. Just a few months ago we used Mazor X to complete the surgery on a patient of mine named Jean from Morton Grove.

She was having progressively worse issues with her legs -- intense pain that eventually led to difficulty walking. She told me that she couldn't walk more than 30 feet without having to stop because of the pain. We did X-rays and found that her L4 and L5 vertebrae were not aligned properly, which was causing her pain. After her surgery, we saw a total transformation -- Jean was actually up and walking within four or five hours following the surgery.

Now three months later, everything looks great, and she is working on getting back to her old self in physical therapy. Thanks to Mazor X, we can deliver those results more consistently and quickly than ever before.

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