• The Rivers School

Tim Minicozzi - Dr. Nobuhiko Hata's Surgical Navigation and Robotics Lab

This summer I had the opportunity to intern at Dr. Nobuhiko Hata’s Surgical Navigation and Robotics Lab, which is affiliated with Harvard Medical School and Brigham and Women’s Hospital. The lab functioned in a hybrid mode, with a lot of communication through Zoom and Slack, especially when talking with the international members of the lab. Although I expected to be online a lot, for convenience reasons, I was fortunate to be able to work at the lab in person the majority of the time, which I took full advantage of when I discovered its benefits. It was a great experience to be in the lab in person, and I got to know the other lab members, both interns and full time members, throughout the summer.

At the beginning of the internship, Dr. Hata introduced the interns to the lab environment. We attended lectures that he and other professors gave, as well as observed meetings between lab members and outside collaborators. He gave interns various little tasks to complete as he assessed their strengths, and then assigned interns their project for the summer.

I was assigned to work on a project with another intern, Ahmet Yildiz, who is a college graduate from Sabanci University in Istanbul, and currently lives in Turkey. For our project, a neurosurgeon at BWH had made an initial model of a device that could be used for neurosurgery. Dr. Hata gave us the task of continuing to design this device, designing navigation software for its use, and validating the feasibility of this device and software. The goal of the device and software is to facilitate the correct needle placement for a given surgical intervention, doing so by allowing the user to align the needle with a desired trajectory, such that when the needle is inserted the target will be reached.

My first task was to set up the optical tracking system that would allow the device and needle to be tracked. Once this was set up, we connected the tracking system to 3D Slicer, an open-source software. We then started on the long process of setting up all the functionalities that we wanted on 3D Slicer. This involved a lot of trial and error, time, tutorials, and deep thinking, but we eventually emerged at the final product. With our software pretty much complete, we 3D printed our device model, and we began experimenting with how it would work. In this process, we made some final edits to the device and the software, and then it was time to perform our validation study.

In the final days of the internship, we collected data for our validation study, in order to assess the performance of the device and its software. We did so by placing targets inside a 3D printed skull phantom (a model of the skull used for testing the device), and then taking the phantom and device to the hospital's CT scanner. We uploaded the CT scans to 3D Slicer, and then used the software to help guide the needle to the targets. After each insertion, we measured the distance the needle was from the target, and used that data to assess the accuracy of the device and software. The results of our validation study have suggested that this device is in fact feasible for future clinical use. After I leave, this device will be further developed and tested, and I hope that it will one day be used clinically!

Lastly, we made a final presentation of our project that we shared with all of the lab members. This was a great practice in making good presentations and delivering them well. As of posting this, we are now working on a paper to share our findings. We will submit this paper to the SPIE Medical Imaging conference, and we hope that it will be accepted.

This internship was a great experience for me. It helped me learn about how an effective work environment functions, and also was incredibly interesting and a unique experience to work with talented, hardworking, and successful individuals from all over the world. It also helped reinforce to me the benefits of perseverance and working step by step to complete a long term goal. I want to thank Dr. Hata and Mr. Schlenker for providing this experience to me, and all of the lab members who made the experience great. I cannot thank you all enough.