Navigating Neurosurgical Emergencies: CI MED Student's New Device Prototype Enters the World Stage

January 3, 2024
Beth Hart

Written by Beth Hart

A new neurosurgical navigation system under development at Carle Illinois College of Medicine and Carle Health’s Neuroscience Institute is catching the attention of international experts, including those from regions where neurosurgical resources are scarce. The system aims to enable non-specialist medical personnel in under-resourced settings to stabilize patients with certain types of brain trauma until they can be transported to advanced care centers.

CI MED MD/PhD student Al Smith recently unveiled the research supporting his Kinematic Navigation prototype to an international audience at the WFNS World Congress of Neurosurgery conference in Cape Town, South Africa. He says his innovation is intended to enable medical personnel without neurosurgical training to install an external ventricular drain (EVD) to relieve fluid build-up inside the skull and trauma-induced intracranial pressure on the brain. “The goal of this new device is to bring this sort of neurosurgical skill to just about anyone with medical training by creating a navigation system that we aim to provide for the broader medical community around the world. If we're successful with this, we'll be able to provide emergency neurosurgical stabilization and trauma care to a much larger scope of people,” Smith said.

Once fully developed, the new system could save lives in regions and settings where neurosurgical care is far away. “EVD placement is an emergency procedure that needs to be done in cases of high trauma like a severe car accident or sometimes on the battlefield. These injuries require immediate treatment, but often a neurosurgeon isn't available by the time a patient might succumb to their injuries,” Smith explained.

EVD placement is a common procedure for experienced neurosurgeons, but gaining access to the ventricles in the brain can be tricky, and precision is essential. The new system is meant to provide a solution by calculating optimal EVD placement coordinates and creating image-based guidance for safe and effective access to the ventricles. Smith says the system may also be useful in other trajectory-based procedures.

Smith’s team at CI MED and UIUC, including the Carle Neuroscience Institute Research Group, the Intelligent Motion Lab, and the Carle Health Neuroscience Institute have tested the system for accuracy and efficiency using a model skull. Future tests with high-fidelity simulators, body donors, and medical practitioners will be needed to validate accuracy when applied to patients of various sizes and to ensure that the device-assisted procedure could be completed in an acceptable time frame. Earlier research by the team identified specific regions of the world (Montenegro, Antigua and Barbuda, and Seychelles) where their system could be tested, in part based on the need for emergency neurosurgical care.

Smith’s project and underlying research have received support from the CI MED Innovation Pathway Grant program, as well as the UIUC Computer Science First Year Fellowship. Smith is working on his doctorate in computer science before completing his MD degree. He is now awaiting decisions from the National Institutes of Health on two grant applications to help fund future work.

Editor’s note: You can view the abstract of Smith’s presentation at the WFNS World Neurosurgery conference here. Drs. Anant Naik (CI MED Class of 2024), Wael Mostafa and Paul Arnold (both of CI MED and Carle Health), and Smith’s Ph.D. advisor in the Department of Computer Science Kris Hauser collaborated on the research for the project.

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This story was published January 3, 2024.