Robot surgeons to be used to carry out operations on patients without human assistance PDF Print E-mail
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Robot surgeons to be used to carry out operations on patients without human assistance
By Niall Firth
21st July 2010

Scientists have tested letting robots carry out operations (file picture)

Robot surgeons that can operate without human assistance may one day be able carry out routine procedures on real patients. Research in the US has shown that a robot can locate and operate on a human organ and even take samples – all without a surgeon’s intervention.

Scientists at Duke University in North Carolina used a robotic arm combined with ultrasound to carry out test procedures on a section of raw turkey breast. Turkey is often used in medical research because its texture is similar to human flesh and it scans in a similar way during ultrasound. The robot used ultrasound to scan the tissue and locate the section that needed to be removed. It then used sophisticated artificial intelligence to take real-time 3D information and give the robot specific commands to perform.

The robot arm then manipulated the same biopsy device used by human surgeons to reach a section of tissue and take samples. The robot guided the plunger to eight different locations on the simulated prostate tissue in 93 percent of its attempts. Multiple samples are often needed to discover if any abnormal tissue sample is cancerous or not, for example.

Currently, robotic surgery is carried out under strict supervision by human surgeons who control the robot's movements. But Professor Stephen Smith, who led the team, believes that routine medical procedures will be performed in the future with minimal human guidance. He said it will be more convenient and cost far less than using human surgeons.

An important challenge to be overcome is the speed of data acquisition and processing, though the researchers are confident that faster processors and better algorithms will address that issue. To be clinically useful, all of the robot's actions would need to be in real time, the researchers said.

Professor Smith said: ‘We're now testing the robot on a human mannequin seated at the examining table whose breast is constrained in a stiff bra cup.’ ‘'The breast is composed of turkey breast tissue with an embedded grape to simulate a lesion. Our next step is to move to an excised human breast.’

The results of the research appear in the current issue of the journal Ultrasonic Imaging.

Source: Daily Mail UK.

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