Eye-Tracking SystemBy Reuters - | Posted 2008-11-04 Print
Tens of thousands of prostate, heart and other procedures are already being performed by robots, and experts predict machines will be used to penetrate deeper into ailing bodies in the years ahead. In a university laboratory behind London's Science Museum, researchers are working on a new generation of hi-tech gadgets to take minimally invasive robotic surgery to the next level.
Sitting at console and looking at a stereoscopic viewer, Darzi can direct his robot's multi-jointed pincers inside the patient's body using a series of joysticks and foot controls as he conducts gall bladder, cancer and other operations.
They may be state-of-the-art, but these robots are just the start.
"This is the tip of the iceberg -- this is the first car ever invented," Darzi told Reuters. "There is a huge amount of work in this field which will significantly enhance the ability of the surgeon to provide a much more precise, accurate procedure."
One idea that could soon become a reality is a device that uses the surgeon's gaze to direct tools by tracking the light reflected from the user's eyes, making operations simpler and less invasive.
Positive results with the eye-tracking system were presented at the International Conference on Intelligent Robots and Systems in Nice, France in September.
The natural orifice "I-snake" camera and surgery system, which would do away with the need for incisions altogether, is further down the track. The team at Imperial hope to have their oral or rectal access system ready for tests within 3-1/2 years.
Work is also under way on "augmented reality" software. This could use data from past patient scans to help surgeons visualize tumors or other structures underneath living tissue.
Another possibility is artificially stabilizing the image of moving organs, such as a beating heart, by creating robotic instruments that move in tandem with the patient's body.
"Currently, robots are used in relatively simple procedures," said Guang-Zhong Yang, joint head of the Imperial unit. "But in future, you will see them used in more advanced procedures, like beating-heart surgery."
Darzi and Yang are not alone.
In May this year, doctors at the University of Calgary in Canada used a robot called neuroArm to remove a tumor from a 21-year-old woman's brain in the first operation of its kind.
Privately held U.S. firm Satiety Inc, meanwhile, is testing a stomach stapler for obese patients that slides down the throat rather than requiring abdominal surgery.
Researchers at Germany's DLR Institute of Robotics and Mechatronics are working on a lightweight system called MIRO using the same robotic arm technology as is used in space.
And business is booming at Intuitive Surgical, whose installed base of more than 1,030 da Vinci robots at hospitals throughout the world is due to perform at least 130,000 prostatectomies, hysterectomies, heart valve operations and other procedures this year.
(editing by Andrew Dobbie and Sara Ledwith)
© Thomson Reuters 2008 All rights reserved
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