Colorado teen wins top international science fair prize for idea to revolutionize spinal surgery

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GREENWOOD VILLAGE, Colo. – Cherry Creek High School junior Krithik Ramesh is 75,000 steps closer to his dream of attending Stanford, Caltech, Berkeley, MIT or Harvard.

The 16-year-old was awarded the top prize over the weekend at the Intel International Science and Engineering Fair, considered the “largest international pre-college science competition”. The prize includes the prestigious Gordon E. Moore Award and $75,000.

“This is such an incredible prestige and it happened to me and I haven’t fully comprehended everything yet,” Ramesh told FOX31.

Ramesh says he enjoys listening to music, solving Rubik’s cubes, competing with his school’s speech and debate team, experimenting with his flight simulator and playing Just Dance. He says the video game, which uses motion sensing technology, inspired his winning science project.

“My project started because I was trying to like five star Shakira’s ‘Hips Don’t Lie’ on Just Dance, so learning how the motion tracking system worked was ultimately how I predicted spine behavior,” he said.

Ramesh spent about nine months researching for his project. He learned how to interpret medical imaging, collaborated with medical professionals and developed algorithms for using augmented reality, machine learning and computer vision.

“Essentially what I did was try to eliminate fluoroscopy from surgery,” he said.

Fluoroscopy is a medical imaging procedure in which doctors can see x-rays in real time, like an x-ray movie. It allows surgeons to see where they need to place screws in the spine.

“Patients saw productive coughing, vomiting and acute vertebral disc degeneration” during fluoroscopy procedures, according to Ramesh.

“I thought if we could just get one preoperative MRI or CT scan, I can predict the spine biomechanics or how the spine actually behaves and then optimize the surgical approach and then guide the surgeon in real time,” he said.

In theory, Ramesh says surgeons would wear an augmented reality headset which produces a hologram with data from the previous scans, which would direct doctors where to place the pedical screws without the need for real-time x-rays.

According to Intel, Ramesh’s project “has the potential to decrease operating time by at least 30 minutes, reduce physical therapy recovery time by four weeks, and diminish the negative effects associated with traditional medical imaging.”

“Robotic surgery is really one of the next frontiers in medicine and biomedical engineering so I’m hoping all the research that I’ve done with this will definitely help further that,” Ramesh said.

According to Ramesh, 25 students from Colorado were invited to participate in the 2019 ISEF. Ramesh was one of three students representing Cherry Creek High School.

He also was awarded a regional first place award at ISEF in 2018 for a project that attempted to use mechanical learning to help the wings of  aircraft compensate for turbulence.

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