Medical advances are being made every day, but have you ever heard of robots performing surgery? Robotic surgery is not a new concept, it has been available since 1985, where the first documented robotically-assisted surgery took place. The surgery consisted of a neurosurgical biopsy. Since then there has been an increase of robotically assisted surgery, with the rate increasing by 25% annually.
Although robotic surgery is not a new concept, it does not mean they are operating completely on their own. The robotic portion is used in assistance for the surgeon. The most well-known robot capable of surgery is the Da Vinci Surgical System robot, which released a video demonstrating that it is so precise it was capable of sewing a grape back together. A single unit of this robot costs about two million dollars, meaning that surgery will be significantly more expensive than regular or laparoscopic surgery.
Despite the Da Vinci robot being very impressive and accurate, it is not the most advanced surgical robot available, that spot goes to STAR surgical robot, which is an autonomous robot. This STAR – which stands for Smart Tissue Autonomous Robot – was named a finalist for the NASA iTech Challenge in 2017, forever revolutionising the medical field. It was developed by The Children’s National Health System in Washington D.C., U.S.A. Approximately 1.5 million dollars of funding were used in order to develop this innovative medical robot. This robot is not only programmed to make sutures but to also decide (on its own) where and how to perform them.
Although this autonomous robot is a step in the direction of the future of medicine, there are disadvantages to these robots. The main disadvantage is their inability to gage situations and if there happens to be an emergency in which suturing has to be aborted, or where the wound needs to be re-opened or if other procedures on the patient need to take priority.
On the other hand, in Europe, the project Hipernav has been working towards programming robots that can operate on tumours that are located in soft tissues. The project has made great progress with liver cancer and is now aiming to make more progress with pancreatic cancer. The way that these machines work is firstly through the reconstruction of three-dimensional images from magnetic resonance imaging (MRIs) or ultrasounds, navigational algorithms are then put in place so that the robot becomes autonomous. Due to the fact that these interventions are more accurate and faster, it results in the patient recovering in a faster manner.
An article in The Conversation explains how it works, “When a person has liver cancer, the liver is traditionally divided into eight portions delimited by the main blood vessels. Open surgery is then performed and sections containing tumours are removed during the operation. On the other hand, a laparoscopy only makes a few small holes in the patient. And cuts out only the tumour and some more tissue as a security perimeter.”
The advantages of using these robots are very clear, patients are submitted to only one or a couple of hours of surgery rather than having to go under the knife for various hours. It gives the patient the opportunity to recover in a much faster manner, increasing efficiency and accuracy. These modern “doctors” in the form of robots have completely changed the field of medicine and as time goes on we can only expect further improvements and advancements.