Progress being made in robotic surgery

Entrusting robots to perform something as personal, invasive and hugely important as surgery seems to be asking a lot, yet the capabilities of robotic surgeons is increasing at quite a pace.

For instance, researchers from the University of Utah have been working on robotic brain surgeons, and they believe they’ve managed to develop a system that can perform the work of a human surgeon in 50 times less time.  It has managed to reduce the time required to drill into the skull from two hours to just 2.5 minutes.

The robot is guided by data from CT scans to ensure the machine avoids sensitive areas such as nerves or veins.

“We can program [it] to drill the bone out safely just by using the patient’s CT criteria,” the team say. “It basically machines out the bone.”

Robotic colonoscopy

Another fascinating example of the progress being made comes via a recent paper from researchers at Vanderbilt University Medical Center.  The early stage project has seen a robot perform complex colonoscopy procedures on pigs.

Colonoscopies are crucial procedures as they play a key role in screening for colon cancer, but the procedure is one that many people skip due to fears about the invasiveness or risk of side effects.

Traditionally, colonoscopies are conducted via a camera being inserted into the colon through a tube to allow doctors to look for precancerous polyps or other abnormalities.  Upon finding anything, the doctors can then remove the polyps.

The robotic version of this uses two magnetic components that contain both the camera and the tools for conducting the procedure.  A robotic arm moves around the body, using magnets to pull the internal capsule through the body.

The team believe that the new procedure will cause less discomfort for patients due to being pulled through the colon rather than pushed.  This is due to a reduced risk of the device getting stuck.

The team have programmed the device to autonomously perform a procedure known as retroflexion, which allows the colonoscope to be turned around to give the doctor a reverse view of the colon.  This procedure was performed over 30 times during the study, albeit in a pig colon.

Suffice to say, it is still very early days for the technology, but the team hope to test it in humans by the end of 2018.

Both of these technologies offer the potential of freeing up considerable time for surgeons to perform other, crucial roles in the surgical process, whilst at the same time saving large amounts of money.  Check out the video below to see the colonoscopy robot in action.