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Navigating the Curves

Student internship translates ideas into innovation

The green city of Freiburg, Amir Manbachi's home for the summer (photos courtesy of Amir Manbachi and Hans Schoepp)

When asked what he was doing this summer, Amir Manbachi had a great answer:

"I'm developing a theoretical model of a device meant to transform the quality of care in spinal surgeries by providing an easier, more accurate means of navigation for surgeons."

Manbachi (pictured below), a third-year PhD student in biomedical engineering at the Institute of Biomaterials and Biomedical Engineering (IBBME), is interning at the research and development headquarters of Stryker Leibinger GmbH & Co. in Freiburg, Germany.

Recognized as one of the world's top five medical device companies that design, produce and market products in the field of surgical navigation, the internship at Stryker offers Manbachi the opportunity to put his research into practice.

Manbachi is studying spinal surgery navigation systems using a novel ultrasound technique. Spinal surgeries are notoriously difficult, he says. Seeing the delicate spinal tissues being operated on has been a long-standing problem for surgeons. "It's been blind so far," Manbachi says.

The problems associated with more typical guidance systems for spinal surgeries are also daunting. For instance, computer-assisted surgeries, such those that use as global positioning system (GPS) technology, tend to cost a great deal of money and subject patients to potentially-dangerous levels of radiation involved with CT scans.

Richard Cobbold, a professor emeritus at IBBME and cross-appointed to the Edward S. Rogers Sr. Department of Electrical & Computer Engineering, and one of Manbachi’s co-supervisors, notes that the research is still in its early stages, yet is clinically applicable. “It has the potential for reducing the number of surgical errors," he says.

A further sign that Manbachi’s research has potential occurred earlier this year when he and Cobbold filed a patent application with the U of T Innovations Office for their surgical navigation technology.

"Amir is a dynamic individual," Cobbold says. "He works extremely hard to develop new ideas and thoughts."

Despite all the hard work, Manbachi is enjoying the side benefits from his summer internship. "I'm learning about Germany's approach to a clean and environmentally-friendly lifestyle, another language and all about the efficiency of German engineers."