Tell us a little bit about your professional background.
I started working in research at the Barrow Neurological Institute (BNI) in Phoenix in 1993, helping the neurosurgery department develop a new biomechanics lab. I received my PhD in Biomechanics from Arizona State University in 1996 while working full time at BNI. My dissertation was on the experimental and analytical methods that I had developed at BNI using human cadaveric spines to test the effects of different surgical implants and techniques on spinal stability and movement. I continued to direct biomechanics at BNI and worked closely with several spinal neurosurgeons during this time, especially Dr. Nicholas Theodore, who was a neurosurgery resident and later an attending surgeon at BNI. Dr. Theodore and I worked together on several biomechanics projects and frequently met over coffee to chat about ideas for innovation in spine surgery.
In 2006, we were able to convince the BNI to fund development of our idea for a surgical robot, which eventually became Excelsius Surgical and the basis for the ExcelsiusGPS®. There were a lot of long hours spent during development of the first prototype—I would run biomechanics experiments during the day and in the evenings hook up the same the same optical tracking cameras to the robot to work on robotic software concepts.
You were the co-founder of Excelsius Surgical and hold numerous technical patents related to surgical tools and implants. Where do you get your inspiration?
My inspiration for patentable ideas often comes from a need that a surgeon discusses or a shortcoming that I notice in the process. Being in the lab for all those years, I was able to directly observe a lot of different new surgical implants, which would often fail in cadaveric spines in ways that the designers didn’t expect, and those failures can be very inspirational. In developing algorithms to automate testing of advanced concepts in biomechanics in the lab, I also gained knowledge about 3D transformations and optical tracking that has become useful in conceptualizing new patentable methods for tracking and displaying information about surgical tools.
What do you like most about working at Globus?
I like seeing ideas quickly become actual products or features, and then seeing users like surgeons and their staff become excited about these features. When I worked as a researcher, my ideas could take years until they were published, if at all.
What do you see in the future of surgical robotics?
The future of surgical robotics is very exciting. We are just beginning to use the ExcelsiusGPS® to help place screws, but there are so many other implants and procedures we can roboticize in spine surgery and in other specialities. We have big plans at Globus. I think robotic guidance for screw insertion may become the standard of care in the future, especially when we get to the point where screws can be placed faster, safer, and biomechanically better by the robot than freehand. In the future when people start to see how valuable it can be, competition will increase but we are well positioned for continued success.