June 2004 issue
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DiGioia Praised for Medical Innovation

Design News has honored Dr. Anthony M. DiGioia, III, a surgeon at Pittsburgh’s Western Pennsylvania Hospital who holds an engineering degree from Carnegie Mellon.

He received a special achievement award for an invention called Hip-Nav. The computer-based planning tool enables surgeons to more accurately select and position a prosthetic hip prior to performing hip-replacement surgery. The result is less invasive surgery which allows hip-replacement patients to return to normal life sooner.

Hip-Nav and its close relative, Knee-Nav, use optical sensors, infrared cameras, computers and special software to triangulate the optimal placement of prosthetic parts. In addition, Hip-Nav uses CT scans to provide 3D references of the patient’s pelvic geometry. These allow surgeons to select the preferred size and model of implant.

DiGioia was a weightlifter and standout tight end on the Carnegie Mellon football squad while working on his bachelor’s degree in civil engineering, which he earned in 1979. He earned a master’s in civil/biomedical engineering here three years later. His graduate advisor was another Design News special achievement award recipient, William “Red” Whittaker, famed expert and pioneer in field robotics. DiGioia’s interest in body mechanics led him to a part time job designing hip implants in an orthopaedic research lab, which then led him to Harvard Medical School, where he graduated with honors.

When DiGioia conceived Hip-Nav, he put together a team with diverse skills, consisting of engineers, computer scientists, programmers and physicians. “Team building and developing consensus were important components of our program,” he says. Selecting the right team and letting people do what they do best was the approach he chose. DiGioia himself provided the team real-world feedback from the surgeon’s point of view.

“He told us what surgeons would be comfortable with and what they wouldn’t be comfortable with,” says Costa Nikou, director of software development.

DiGioia also instilled a sense of creative problem solving and continuous process improvement. “Physicians and engineers must be able to continually learn, evaluate, and re-evaluate, and then adapt to change,” DiGioia says.

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