Surgical robots: the future is here

Surgical robots Robotically enhanced operating theatre.

Professor Sir Ara Darzi, Professor Brian Davies, Professor Guang Zhong Yang, Dr Fernando Bello, Dr Parvinder Sains, Dr Rajesh Aggarwal, Dr Julian Hance and Dr Alex Zivanovic.
Imperial College London.

'The use of robots in surgery is a natural extension of the already proven benefits of keyhole surgery', explains Parvinder Sains. 'Surgical robots can restore some of the dexterity that surgeons lose in keyhole work and can therefore reduce the risk of errors'.

Medical robotics and computer-aided surgery are new and promising fields of study. At Imperial, extensive research is being undertaken to develop and assess the provision of an 'intelligent', interactive, robotically-enhanced delivery of health care. By combining the optimal functions of robots and humans, these new technologies enhance the work of surgeons and represent a new chapter in the history of surgical therapy.

Telemanipulator robots allow a surgeon to view the operation site inside a patient in 3D on a computer screen and, through a variety of systems including hand movements, voice control and pedals, control both the movement of the instruments and the camera relaying the visuals. By scaling down the size of the surgeon's movements in relation to the movement of the instruments, the system effectively abolishes hand tremor.

In 1991, a 'world first' was achieved at Imperial with the demonstration of robotic prostate surgery. This was the first time a robot had actively removed tissue from a human patient. Imperial is evaluating telemanipulator robots to establish which other new operative techniques might be possible in the future and which operations truly benefit from robotic technology. Training systems for conventional surgery are also under development. Imperial is integrating force feedback and active constraints for one of the telemanipulator robots, the da Vinci"", and is working on new visualisation techniques. 'Force feedback enables the surgeon to feel the instrument pressing against the body tissues, making the operation more realistic', explains Fernando Bello. 'Active constraints are settings that prevent the surgeon moving outside a certain region and hitting a major blood vessel, for example'.