Surgical robot performs world-first autonomous laparoscopic procedure
While robotic laparoscopic surgical systems do make certain procedures safer and less invasive, those systems are still operated by human surgeons. Now, however, a surgical robot has performed a delicate operation entirely on its own.
Known as the Smart Tissue Autonomous Robot (STAR), the robotic-arm-equipped device was designed by researchers at Johns Hopkins University.
Back in 2016, when operating on pigs, STAR was shown to be equal to or better than experienced surgeons at performing a procedure known as an intestinal anastomosis – this involved painstakingly suturing together the two severed ends of a small intestine. At the time, however, the robot had to access the intestine via a large external incision, and still required some guidance from humans.
In the more recent experiments, an improved and more autonomous version of STAR successfully performed the procedure laparoscopically – this means that only small incisions were required for the entry and exit of the surgical tools. What's more, the robot did so four times (on four pigs), producing "significantly better results than humans performing the same procedure."
Intestinal anastomosis is said to be a particularly tricky operation, as it requires multiple sutures to be made in soft tissue with a consistently high rate of precision. If any of the sutures are misplaced, intestinal leakage may occur, which can have very serious consequences for the patient.
Among the new features on this version of STAR are specialized suturing tools, better imaging systems (which include a 3D endoscope) and perhaps most notably, an autonomous control system. The latter adapts the surgical plan in real time, based on the often unpredictable movements of the soft intestinal tissue.
"Robotic anastomosis is one way to ensure that surgical tasks that require high precision and repeatability can be performed with more accuracy and precision in every patient independent of surgeon skill," said Johns Hopkins' Asst. Prof. Axel Krieger, senior author of a paper on the research. "We hypothesize that this will result in a democratized surgical approach to patient care with more predictable and consistent patient outcomes."
The paper was recently published in the journal Science Robotics.
Source: Johns Hopkins University