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A robot will likely assist in your future surgery

Lucas Mearian | March 3, 2016
Robots could put some operations into the hands of non-surgeons.

The increasing need for automation in healthcare and growing demand for minimally invasive surgeries are driving the surgical robotic systems and procedures market, according to Allied. In addition, a rise in cases of colorectal cancer, neurological disorders and gynecological diseases, among others, would boost the adoption of robotic surgical systems well adapted for minimally invasive procedures.

"Surgical robotic systems offer less post-surgical complications and reduce labor cost," the study said. "Due to this, large-scale hospitals based in developed and developing economies are now favoring automated surgical/hospital services, which ultimately drives the market growth."

Roto-Rooter to the rescue

The Flex System is the first robot-assisted flexible endoscopic platform of its kind and the first to receive FDA approval with the word "robot" in its name, according Howie Choset, a professor of robotics at Carnegie Mellon University's (CMU) Robotics Institute, where it was invented.

The Flex System lets surgeons operate through non-linear winding paths, and through a single-site access into the body. The endoscope maneuverability comes from numerous mechanical links with concentric mechanisms. Each mechanism can be placed into a rigid or a limp state. By employing "follow-the-leader" movement with alternating rigid or limp states, the endoscope can be directed into any shape through the relative orientations of its linkages.

The Flex Arm robot is so easy to use, even a non-surgeon can learn it in 20 minutes, according Choset. As a result, the Flex System could some day allow military medics in the field to perform minimally invasive surgery on wounded soldiers, Choset said.

CMU has conducted studies with medical residents where the students used the Flex Arm system once a day for five days. "While everyone started off at different levels of skill, they pretty much came to same benchmark within three tries," Duvvuri said.

"What this told us is that anyone can learn to use this and it takes about three tries to learn how to use it in a surgically meaningful way," he added.

Once the Flex Arm robot maneuvers its way to a site within the body, surgeons can then deploy articulating instruments three millimeters in diameter, which further extends their reach to perform procedures.

"We've used it to tackle patients with tumors on the back of the tongue or oral pharynx region," Duvvuri said. "The typical [endoscopic] devices tend to be straight stick linear devices. When have to operate on the back of tongue, because it's curved, they tend to be more limited in what they can do."

Duvvuri also recognizes that surgical robots have their limitations. For example, a 5-in. tumor wouldn't be a good candidate for robotic surgery as it would require a much larger hole in a patient's body to be removed.


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