Robots set to revolutionise surgery
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Posted 10 September 2009 - 07:16 AM
Within ten years some doctors and scientists are predicting that all surgery could be scarless. They say by using the natural orifices of the body and the body's own natural scar the belly-button (or umbilicus), it will be possible to insert robots into the body which can help perform every surgical procedure. It sounds fantastical, but prototypes are already in existence that can crawl and swim inside the body taking pictures of difficult to access areas. There are particularly big hopes for Ares (Assembling Reconfigurable Endoluminal Surgical System), developed by Scuola Superiore Sant'Anna, Italy, with the support of the European Commission.
This is a robot that will self assemble inside the body, after the patient has swallowed up to 15 separate parts, and then aid the surgeon to carry out procedures. By operating from inside the body, surgeons could avoid external incisions, minimising pain and shortening recovery time for the patient. In many areas surgeons are already using robots for their daily surgical work. Robots such as 'FreeHand', a robotic camera controller for minimally invasive surgery. Traditionally the laparoscopic (keyhole) camera was been moved by an assistant, but the 'FreeHand' allows the surgeon to control the camera themselves using head movements and a foot pedal.
Another example is the 'Da Vinci Robot' which is mainly used to carry out prostatectomies (removal of all or part of the prostate), tumour removals, gastro and neurological operations. Its robotic arms rotate 360 degrees allowing surgeons more precision than they would have using their own hands. Mr Justin Vale, a urological surgeon from Imperial College Healthcare NHS Trust said robots already feature heavily in his daily work. He uses the Da Vinci robot for all his prostatectomies and half his kidney tumour removals.
"I say to all my trainees and NHS managers that it is almost inconceivable as surgeons that in 10 years time we will be putting our hands in patients," he said. "As long as they can bring the price down and make them smaller it is almost inevitable they will take off." But he said there were training issues and that learning to use the computers required a new approach.
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