Eliminating the guesswork placing spinal needles

Spinal taps and epidurals sound scary, and if the thought of a giant needle plunging into your lower back doesn’t cause anxiety, knowing how much guesswork is involved certainly would. Guided only by touch, physicians feel around the spine in search of a dime-sized location to insert the needle. As Co-Founder of IntuiTap Medical, Dr. Yashar Ganjeh engineered a device to make spinal needle placement more precise and less painful.

Tell us about your research…

I am the Principle Investigator on a National Science Foundation SBIR project titled “Tactile sensing for spinal-needle placements”, which my startup, IntuiTap Medical, was granted recently. We are developing a handheld medical device for performing spinal needle placements, such as epidurals in anesthesiology and spinal taps in emergency medicine and neurology.

We are developing a handheld medical device for performing spinal needle placements, such as epidurals in anesthesiology and spinal taps in emergency medicine and neurology.

Our device uses an array of tactile sensors that when placed against patient’s back, gives an image of underlying vertebrae, showing physicians the gap between the two vertebrae, where they need to place a spinal needle. Currently, we are testing our device as part of an IRB-approved study at Prentice Women’s Hospital.

Can you explain that to a non-scientist?

Currently, the physicians use their sense of touch to find a dime-size opening between patients’ vertebrae to insert a needle. Our handheld device uses passive sensors that require no waves, ultrasound or magnetic, to image the lumbar anatomy. We use tactile sensors to measure force applied to patient’s back and generate a 2D image of underlying anatomy.

Currently, the physicians use their sense of touch to find a dime-size opening between patients’ vertebrae to insert a needle.

The image looks like what you see on a stud finder but for your spine! Our device has an enhanced sense of touch and can display what it feels on patient’s back as an image, making a blind procedure visual.

Our device has an enhanced sense of touch and can display what it feels on patient’s back as an image, making a blind procedure visual.

How could it someday impact patient lives?

By improving efficiency and accuracy of these procedures, we hope to eliminate the complications caused by them. The blind nature of the procedure can delay treatment in complicated cases and cause significant pain to patients due to multiple needle insertion attempts.

The blind nature of the procedure can delay treatment in complicated cases and cause significant pain to patients due to multiple needle insertion attempts.

Multiple punctures can also result in leakage of cerebrospinal fluid and patients experiencing debilitating headaches. Post puncture headaches are the most common source of lawsuits for anesthesiologists. In ER and neurology, failed attempts result in radiology referrals so the procedure can be done under X-ray. Our solution will obviate the need for such referrals and prevent harmful radiation exposure.