Nicolas Fedrigo, from Saanich, was presented with a Weston Youth Innovation Award prize on Wednesday, June 26, 2019, in Toronto for a spinal surgery tool he redesigned. (Ontario Science Centre)

Saanich teen racks up another award for redesigned spinal probe

Nicolas Fedrigo presented with second-place Weston prize

A Saanich teenager whose redesigned spinal surgery tool has garnered him national and international attention is once again receiving recognition for his invention.

The Ontario Science Centre presented Nicolas Fedrigo with a second-place Weston Youth Innovation Award prize on Wednesday in Toronto, allowing the 18-year-old to add another accolade to his lengthy list of awards.

“Through the past four years, I have been pursuing innovation to create a positive impact on my community and society,” Fedrigo, who recently graduated from Claremont Secondary School, wrote in an email prior to receiving the prize. “I am so grateful and honoured that the Weston Youth Innovation Award is recognizing me for the embodiment of these values.”

Fedrigo, for his Grade 11 project in the Vancouver Island Regional Science Fair last year, redesigned a pedicle probe.

READ ALSO: Claremont student’s spinal probe earns nation’s top science award

Pedical probes are medical devices used by surgeons to create “pilot holes” that guide the placement of pedicle screws in vertebrae, during spinal fusion surgery. Fedrigo’s probe recognizes tissue densities, allowing surgeons to avoid cortial — or compact — bone.

“When the probe contacts denser cortical tissue, it warns the user by providing tactile and visual feedback before the life-altering damage occurs,” wrote Fedrigo.

The device, which Fedrigo tested in his own kitchen using lamb vertebrae from a local butcher, can even be calibrated based on tissue samples taken prior to surgery. So, for instance, the tool can be personalized to a patient with osteoporosis.

His goal was to make spinal fusions safer.

“Up to 29 per cent of patients who undergo spinal fusions suffer from vertebral breaches — accidental damage to the spinal cord — which cause infection, motor defects, and in many cases, paralysis,” he wrote. “This project aimed to make spinal fusions safer by redesigning the pedicle probe to provide instantaneous feedback on the probe’s location using a similar procedure to what exists today, all the while increasing accuracy of pedicle screw placement.”

Fedrigo, who won last year’s Vancouver Island science fair and took home the Platinum Award for senior students at the Canada-Wide Science Fair, continued his work redesigning the tool this year, in his Grade 12 year. He added to his list of accomplishments a first-place award in the engineering category at the Taiwan International Science Fair earlier this year, a third-place award in the same category from the Intel International Science and Engineering Fair in Phoenix in May, and a first-place finish at the European Union Contest for Young Scientists, hosted in Dublin in September.

The European Union event features projects from 38 countries, according to Fedrigo.

“The greatest part of being nationally recognized in science fairs for me was being given the opportunity to represent Canada internationally,” he wrote. “Not only was I able to meet like-minded people from around the world but I was also able to establish long-lasting connections with individuals with unique perspectives.”

Fedrigo will be attending the University of British Columbia next year, where he plans to study in the pre biomedical engineering program.

—- with files from Travis Paterson


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