Are Robots The Future of Surgery?

The medical industry has bared witness to a number of advances in the last few years, including but not limited to 3D printing for replacement body parts, fast DNA-sequencing machines to discover cancer risks, and a new method for growing human brain cells. One of the longest standing advancements still in the works today is robotics for surgery. Many patients and medical enthusiasts want to know whether or not robots will be performing most, if not all, surgeries in the coming years.

This is an intriguing thought, considering artificial intelligence seems to make a splash in other industries as well. Think: self-driving cars and fancy new eyewear in the form of Google Glass. Regardless, having Dr. Robot perform a surgery isn’t as far off as we think. In fact, there are prototypes being tested on animals now.

According to the Daily Journal (http://www.daily-journal.com/life/health/will-robots-be-performing-your-surgery-in-years/article_42c0774f-b593-5327-93bb-b5c7a1130401.html),a new device called the Smart Tissue Autonomous Robot, or STAR, is capable of successfully stitching up tissue in living animals. While there are many hospitals out there that offer a type of robot-assisted surgery, these procedures are still controlled by the surgeon’s hands. This new robot would actually complete certain tasks by itself, allowing the surgeons to focus on other tasks during the procedure.

Before getting too worried about robots performing every aspect of surgery, the doctors involved in the project have assured the public that physicians aren’t leaving the bedside any time soon. According to Dr. Peter C.W. Kim of Children's National Health System in Washington, a pediatric surgeon who led the project, the purpose was not to replace surgeons with STAR.

"If you have an intelligent tool that works with a surgeon, can it improve the outcome?” Dr. Kim said. “That's what we have done."

There are other systems out there being tested for use during surgery, but the STAR system is different. Simply put, STAR is designed to complete one task: stitch up tissue. Interesting enough, it works similarly to a programmable sewing machine – a surgeon places programmable fluorescent markets on tissue that needs stitching and the robot begins the stitching process.

During various tests, there were areas where the robot surpassed surgeon-made stitches and other areas where the robot made mistakes that the surgeon did not. Overall, the system still needs to be finessed, and like most robotic systems, this device may not see an operating room for at least 5-10 years.

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The advice and information contained in this article is for educational purposes only and is not intended to replace or counter a physician’s advice or judgment. Please always consult your physician before taking any advice learned here or in any other educational medical material.