Here Come the Robots

robotSurgical robots were once considered a fantastical invention of sci-fi authors. But the future, as they say, is now. The Harvard Business Review listed surgical robots as one of its 10 Innovations That Will Transform Medicine In 2010, and a new report from Global Analysts, Inc. predicts a worldwide $38.42 billion market for service robots (a category that includes medical robots) by 2015.

Robot-assisted procedures may offer greater precision, less blood loss, and a shorter recovery time than manual surgery. Patients undergoing prostate removal at Rhode Island’s Miriam Hospital are already benefitting from robotic technology. The hospital uses Intuitive Surgical‘s daVinci Surgical System to perform laparoscopic prostatectomies.  Surgeons can manipulate the robotic arms from a remote console. Instead of one large 8- to 10-inch incision, several smaller incisions are made. According to the hospital, patients who undergo the robot-assisted procedure usually leave the hospital within two days.

Mako Surgical also touts a faster recovery time as part of its MAKOplasty procedure for patients with osteoarthritis of the knee. MAKOplasty is a robot-assisted, minimally invasive surgical solution that presents an alternative to total knee replacement. The robotic guidance system used in the procedure may allow for more precise placement of the knee implant and faster recovery.

MAKOplasty entails a procedure called partial knee replacement, in which only the damaged part of the knee is removed. Along similar lines, the UK-based Acrobot Company offers surgical systems to perform partial hip replacements for eligible patients. The company’s Sculptor product is designed for precise bone removal, while other products aid in planning and implant placement. Acrobot’s main focus is orthopedic surgery.

Hansen Medical offers the Sensei Robotic Catheter system for improved catheter control during interventional procedures. The company’s initial focus is electrophysiology procedures for patients who suffer from cardiac arrhythmias, but the technology may also have cardiovascular, peripheral vascular, and neurovascular applications. Hansen recently announced positive results from pre-clinical in vivo study of its new vascular robot.

Surgical robots may also benefit the physicians operating them.In March, we profiled Corindus Vascular Robotics, developer of vascular robotic systems for minimally invasive procedures. The company’s lead product is the CorPath 200 system, the world’s first robotic system for the precise placement of coronary guidewires, stents and catheters in a cath lab. The system can be operated from a cockpit near the patient’s bedside, which may help reduce fatigue and radiation exposure in physicians who work in cath labs. Corindus plans to begin clinical trials of CorPath.

We may not travel by jetpack, but it appears that our dreams of a robot-assisted future may be within reach. What robotic surgery developments are you excited about?

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