Dartmouth Engineer - The Magazine of Thayer School of EngineeringDartmouth Engineer - The Magazine of Thayer School of Engineering

Inventions: Frameless Stereotactic Operating Microscope

Inventors: Professor John Strohbehn and Dr. David Roberts DMS’75

Strohbehn, left, and Roberts launched image-guided surgery with their breakthrough operating microscope.
Strohbehn, left, and Roberts launched image-guided surgery with their breakthrough operating microscope.

Ever since early humans drilled holes into patients’ heads in paleolithic neurosurgery, doctors have longed for a way to navigate the brain and pinpoint lesions. In the 1970s computerized tomography (CT) produced amazing two-dimensional images of the brain, but the only way to use the scans as navigational guides during surgery was via a cumbersome metal frame that ringed the patient’s head, got in the surgeon’s way, and (ouch!) had to be screwed directly into the skull.

In the early 1980s Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center neurosurgeon David Roberts DMS’75 asked Thayer Professor John Strohbehn to create a better solution: an instrument that could map CT data onto the visual field of a microscope to produce a precise three-dimensional (a.k.a. stereotactic) view of the brain. Working together in Strohbehn’s lab at 7 a.m. — before Roberts’ clinical hours and Strohbehn’s classes — they created an operating microscope that was stereotactic, frameless, and precise. They tested their prototype in the operating room in 1983 and patented the invention three years later.

The frameless stereotactic operating microscope was a hit. Not only was it more comfortable for the patient, it was the beginning of image-guided surgery.

Today every neurosurgical operating room in the world is equipped with an updated version of Strohbehn and Roberts’ invention. You don’t have to be a brain surgeon to know that brain surgery would now be unthinkable without it.

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Categories: Inventions

Tags: alumni, curriculum, engineering in medicine, innovation, patent

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