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article imageWould you trust a robot to sew up your appendix?

By Tim Sandle     May 4, 2016 in Health
Washington - A robot has been used to operate on soft tissue for the first time. This wasn't a human controlled device; the robot operated "autonomously," according to a computer program.
The study was performed on a pig, rather than a human being (although surgery on humans is the ultimate aim). The device that performed the operation is called the Smart Tissue Autonomous Robot (STAR). The robot is equipped with a 3D camera and can see near-infrared wavelengths. This functionality enables the robot to visualize parts of the operation with greater clarity than is possible for a person to see. According to the website Inverse, the optical system is coupled with an algorithm that allows the robot-surgeon to keep track of the target tissues.
The surgical bot is named STAR  or Smart Tissue Autonomous Robot.
The surgical bot is named STAR, or Smart Tissue Autonomous Robot.
Children’s National Medical Center in Washington DC
In the study, fluorescent tags were placed at different places on a pig's guts and the robot was programmed to focus in on these areas only. The required operation was an intestinal anastomosis, where two tubes are sewn together. The results were very accurate. The outcome can be seen in the video below:
While the use of robots for medical procedures is not new, the actions of an autonomous robot are groundbreaking. The only downside, so far, is the speed. The operation took 50 minutes to complete, which is far longer than with any human surgeon.
The robot has been used in a proof-of-principle study at the Children’s National Medical Center in Washington D.C. The results, according to lead researcher Peter Kim, were "better than that of a real surgeon."
A review article, describing the technology has been published in the journal Science Translational Medicine. The paper is titled "Supervised autonomous robotic soft tissue surgery."
While the initial surgery has been relatively basic, medical technologists behind the project expect that within two or three years the robot will be able to perform routine surgeries, such as removing an inflamed appendix or dealing with a blocked gall bladder.
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