News Column

Patent Issued for Surgical Access System and Related Methods

July 2, 2014



By a News Reporter-Staff News Editor at Journal of Engineering -- According to news reporting originating from Alexandria, Virginia, by VerticalNews journalists, a patent by the inventors Miles, Patrick (San Diego, CA); Martinelli, Scot (Mountain Top, PA); Finley, Eric (Poway, CA), filed on July 31, 2013, was published online on June 17, 2014.

The assignee for this patent, patent number 8753270, is NuVasive, Inc. (San Diego, CA).

Reporters obtained the following quote from the background information supplied by the inventors: "I. Field of the Invention

"The present invention relates generally to systems and methods for performing surgical procedures and, more particularly, for accessing a surgical target site in order to perform surgical procedures.

"II. Discussion of the Prior Art

"A noteworthy trend in the medical community is the move away from performing surgery via traditional 'open' techniques in favor of minimally invasive or minimal access techniques. Open surgical techniques are generally undesirable in that they typically require large incisions and high amounts of tissue displacement to gain access to the surgical target site, which produces concomitantly high amounts of pain, lengthened hospitalization (increasing health care costs), and high morbidity in the patient population. Less-invasive surgical techniques (including so-called 'minimal access' and 'minimally invasive' techniques) are gaining favor due to the fact that they involve accessing the surgical target site via incisions of substantially smaller size with greatly reduced tissue displacement requirements. This, in turn, reduces the pain, morbidity and cost associated with such procedures. The access systems developed to date, however, fail in various respects to meet all the needs of the surgeon population.

"One drawback associated with prior art surgical access systems relates to the ease with which the operative corridor can be created, as well as maintained over time, depending upon the particular surgical target site. For example, when accessing surgical target sites located beneath or behind musculature or other relatively strong tissue (such as, by way of example only, the psoas muscle adjacent to the spine), it has been found that advancing an operative corridor-establishing instrument directly through such tissues can be challenging and/or lead to unwanted or undesirable effects (such as stressing or tearing the tissues). While certain efforts have been undertaken to reduce the trauma to tissue while creating an operative corridor, such as (by way of example only) the sequential dilation system of U.S. Pat. No. 5,792,044 to Foley et al., these attempts are nonetheless limited in their applicability based on the relatively narrow operative corridor. More specifically, based on the generally cylindrical nature of the so-called 'working cannula,' the degree to which instruments can be manipulated and/or angled within the cannula can be generally limited or restrictive, particularly if the surgical target site is a relatively deep within the patient.

"Efforts have been undertaken to overcome this drawback, such as shown in U.S. Pat. No. 6,524,320 to DiPoto, wherein an expandable portion is provided at the distal end of a cannula for creating a region of increased cross-sectional area adjacent to the surgical target site. While this system may provide for improved instrument manipulation relative to sequential dilation access systems (at least at deep sites within the patient), it is nonetheless flawed in that the deployment of the expandable portion may inadvertently compress or impinge upon sensitive tissues adjacent to the surgical target site. For example, in anatomical regions having neural and/or vasculature structures, such a blind expansion may cause the expandable portion to impinge upon these sensitive tissues and cause neural and/or vasculature compromise, damage and/or pain for the patient.

"This highlights yet another drawback with the prior art surgical access systems, namely, the challenges in establishing an operative corridor through or near tissue having major neural structures which, if contacted or impinged, may result in neural impairment for the patient. Due to the threat of contacting such neural structures, efforts thus far have largely restricted to establishing operative corridors through tissue having little or substantially reduced neural structures, which effectively limits the number of ways a given surgical target site can be accessed. This can be seen, by way of example only, in the spinal arts, where the exiting nerve roots and neural plexus structures in the psoas muscle have rendered a lateral or far lateral access path (so-called trans-psoas approach) to the lumbar spine virtually impossible. Instead, spine surgeons are largely restricted to accessing the spine from the posterior (to perform, among other procedures, posterior lumbar interbody fusion (PLIF)) or from the anterior (to perform, among other procedures, anterior lumbar interbody fusion (ALIF)).

"Posterior-access procedures involve traversing a shorter distance within the patient to establish the operative corridor, albeit at the price of oftentimes having to reduce or cut away part of the posterior bony structures (i.e. lamina, facets, spinous process) in order to reach the target site (which typically comprises the disc space). Anterior-access procedures are relatively simple for surgeons in that they do not involve reducing or cutting away bony structures to reach the surgical target site. However, they are nonetheless disadvantageous in that they require traversing through a much greater distance within the patient to establish the operative corridor, oftentimes requiring an additional surgeon to assist with moving the various internal organs out of the way to create the operative corridor.

"The present invention is directed at eliminating, or at least minimizing the effects of, the above-identified drawbacks in the prior art."

In addition to obtaining background information on this patent, VerticalNews editors also obtained the inventors' summary information for this patent: "The present invention accomplishes this goal by providing a novel access system and related methods which, according to one embodiment, involves detecting the existence of (and optionally the distance and/or direction to) neural structures before, during, and after the establishment of an operative corridor through (or near) any of a variety of tissues having such neural structures which, if contacted or impinged, may otherwise result in neural impairment for the patient. It is expressly noted that, although described herein largely in terms of use in spinal surgery, the access system of the present invention is suitable for use in any number of additional surgical procedures wherein tissue having significant neural structures must be passed through (or near) in order to establish an operative corridor.

"The present invention accomplishes this goal by providing a novel access system and related methods which involve: (1) distracting the tissue between the patient's skin and the surgical target site to create an area of distraction (otherwise referred to herein as a 'distraction corridor'); (2) retracting the distraction corridor to establish and maintain an operative corridor; and/or (3) detecting the existence of (and optionally the distance and/or direction to) neural structures before, during and after the establishment of the operative corridor through (or near) any of a variety of tissues having such neural structures which, if contacted or impinged, may otherwise result in neural impairment for the patient.

"As used herein, 'distraction' or 'distracting' is defined as the act of creating a corridor (extending to a location at or near the surgical target site) having a certain cross-sectional area and shape ('distraction corridor'), and 'retraction' or 'retracting' is defined as the act of creating an operative corridor by increasing or maintaining the cross-sectional area of the distraction corridor (and/or modifying its shape) with at least one retractor blade such that surgical instruments can be passed through operative corridor to the surgical target site.

"According to one broad aspect of the present invention, the access system comprises a tissue distraction assembly and a tissue retraction assembly, both of which may be equipped with one or more electrodes for use in detecting the existence of (and optionally the distance and/or direction to) neural structures during the steps tissue distraction and/or retraction. To accomplish this, one or more stimulation electrodes are provided on the various components of the distraction assemblies and/or retraction assemblies, a stimulation source (e.g. voltage or current) is coupled to the stimulation electrodes, a stimulation signal is emitted from the stimulation electrodes as the various components are advanced towards the surgical target site, and the patient is monitored to determine if the stimulation signal causes muscles associated with nerves or neural structures within the tissue to innervate. If the nerves innervate, this indicates that neural structures may be in close proximity to the distraction and/or retraction assemblies.

"This monitoring may be accomplished via any number of suitable fashions, including but not limited to observing visual twitches in muscle groups associated with the neural structures likely to found in the tissue, as well as any number of monitoring systems. In either situation (traditional EMG or surgeon-driven EMG monitoring), the access system of the present invention may advantageously be used to traverse tissue that would ordinarily be deemed unsafe or undesirable, thereby broadening the number of manners in which a given surgical target site may be accessed.

"The tissue distraction assembly is capable of, as an initial step, distracting a region of tissue between the skin of the patient and the surgical target site. The tissue retraction assembly is capable of, as a secondary step, being introduced into this distracted region to thereby define and establish the operative corridor. Once established, any of a variety of surgical instruments, devices, or implants may be passed through and/or manipulated within the operative corridor depending upon the given surgical procedure. The electrode(s) are capable of, during both tissue distraction and retraction, detecting the existence of (and optionally the distance and/or direction to) neural structures such that the operative corridor may be established through (or near) any of a variety of tissues having such neural structures which, if contacted or impinged, may otherwise result in neural impairment for the patient. In this fashion, the access system of the present invention may be used to traverse tissue that would ordinarily be deemed unsafe or undesirable, thereby broadening the number of manners in which a given surgical target site may be accessed.

"The tissue distraction assembly may include any number of components capable of performing the necessary distraction. By way of example only, the tissue distraction assembly may include a K-wire, an initial dilator (of split construction or traditional non-slit construction), and one or more dilators of traditional (that is, non-split) construction for performing the necessary tissue distraction to receive the remainder of the tissue retractor assembly thereafter. One or more electrodes may be provided on one or more of the K-wire and dilator(s) to detect the presence of (and optionally the distance and/or direction to) neural structures during tissue distraction.

"The tissue retraction assembly may include any number of components capable of performing the necessary retraction. By way of example only, the tissue retraction assembly may include one or more retractor blades extending proximally from the surgical target site for connection with a pivot linkage assembly. The pivot linkage includes first and second pivot arms capable of maintaining the retractor blades in a first, closed position to facilitate the introduction of the retractor blades over the distraction assembly. Thereafter, the pivot linkage may be manipulated to open the retractor assembly; that is, allowing the retractor blades to separate from one another (preferably simultaneously) to create an operative corridor to the surgical target site. In a preferred embodiment, this is accomplished by maintaining a posterior retractor blade in a fixed position relative to the surgical target site (so as to avoid having it impinge upon any exiting nerve roots near the posterior elements of the spine) while the additional retractor blades (i.e. cephalad, caudal and/or anterior retractor blades) are moved or otherwise translated away from the posterior retractor blade (and each other) so as to create the operative corridor in a fashion that doesn't infringe upon the region of the exiting nerve roots. This is accomplished, in part, through the use of a secondary pivot linkage coupled to the pivot linkage assembly, which allows the posterior retractor blade to remain in a constant position while the other retractor blades are moved. In one embodiment, the anterior retractor blade may be positioned after the posterior, cephalad, and caudal retractor blades are positioned into the fully retracted position. This may be accomplished by coupling the anterior refractor blade to the pivot linkage via an arm assembly.

"The retractor blades may be optionally dimensioned to receive and direct a rigid shim element to augment the structural stability of the retractor blades and thereby ensure the operative corridor, once established, will not decrease or become more restricted, such as may result if distal ends of the retractor blades were permitted to 'slide' or otherwise move in response to the force exerted by the displaced tissue. In a preferred embodiment, only the posterior and anterior retractor blades are equipped with such rigid shim elements, which are advanced into the disc space after the posterior and anterior retractor blades are positioned (posterior first, followed by anterior after the cephalad, caudal and anterior blades are moved into the fully retracted position). The rigid shim elements are preferably oriented within the disc space such that they distract the adjacent vertebral bodies, which serves to restore disc height. They are also preferably advanced a sufficient distance within the disc space (preferably past the midline), which serves the dual purpose of preventing post-operative scoliosis and forming a protective barrier (preventing the migration of tissue (such as nerve roots) into the operative field and the inadvertent advancement of instruments outside the operative field).

"The retractor blades may optionally be equipped with a mechanism for transporting or emitting light at or near the surgical target site to aid the surgeon's ability to visualize the surgical target site, instruments and/or implants during the given surgical procedure. According to one embodiment, this mechanism may comprise, but need not be limited to, providing one or more strands of fiber optic cable within the walls of the retractor blades such that the terminal (distal) ends are capable of emitting light at or near the surgical target site. According to another embodiment, this mechanism may comprise, but need not be limited to, constructing the retractor blades of suitable material (such as clear polycarbonate) and configuration such that light may be transmitted generally distally through the walls of the retractor blade light to shine light at or near the surgical target site. This may be performed by providing the retractor blades having light-transmission characteristics (such as with clear polycarbonate construction) and transmitting the light almost entirely within the walls of the retractor blade (such as by frosting or otherwise rendering opaque portions of the exterior and/or interior) until it exits a portion along the interior (or medially-facing) surface of the retractor blade to shine at or near the surgical target site. The exit portion may be optimally configured such that the light is directed towards the approximate center of the surgical target site and may be provided along the entire inner periphery of the retractor blade or one or more portions therealong."

For more information, see this patent: Miles, Patrick; Martinelli, Scot; Finley, Eric. Surgical Access System and Related Methods. U.S. Patent Number 8753270, filed July 31, 2013, and published online on June 17, 2014. Patent URL: http://patft.uspto.gov/netacgi/nph-Parser?Sect1=PTO1&Sect2=HITOFF&d=PALL&p=1&u=%2Fnetahtml%2FPTO%2Fsrchnum.htm&r=1&f=G&l=50&s1=8753270.PN.&OS=PN/8753270RS=PN/8753270

Keywords for this news article include: Surgery, NuVasive Inc., Medical Device Companies.

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Source: Journal of Engineering


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