Robots Are Taking Over Your Surgical procedure (and You Ought to Be Excited)

Sept. 26, 2023 – On her flight to Atlanta, Robin Pollack nibbled gummy bears and sipped a cranberry juice cocktail. It had been per week since she’d gotten robotic surgical procedure to take away a cancerous abdomen tumor at MD Anderson Most cancers Middle in Houston, and she or he was heading house – feeling surprisingly good.

The surgical procedure required 5 small cuts. “I now have 4 little dots and a 2-inch slit that he superglued shut,” Pollack stated. “After surgical procedure, I wakened hungry.”

She was off the bed and strolling in a day, and out and about city along with her husband inside per week, having fun with crème brûlée and eggs Florentine.

“I’ve not had one little bit of ache since,” she stated 2 weeks after surgical procedure. “I’ve not taken ache remedy, not even one Tylenol. I walked 2 miles yesterday.”

A greater post-operative high quality of life is one perk of robotic surgical procedure, stated surgical oncologist Naruhiko Ikoma, MD, who carried out Pollack’s process. 

There are pluses for the surgeon, as nicely. “I really feel extra exact by way of dissection and in suturing,” stated Ikoma. “In typical open operations, surgeons use devices. … In robotic surgical procedure, surgeons really feel like they’re working with their very own fingers with exact suggestions.”

Robotic surgical procedure, or robot-assisted surgical procedure, is greater than 20 years previous, however consultants imagine it’s now poised for development. Propelling the know-how ahead are the very benefits that Pollack and Ikoma describe: improved accuracy, shorter restoration occasions, and fewer ache. 

About 644,000 robotic surgical procedures had been carried out in the US in 2021, and that determine is predicted to method 1 million by 2028. Hundreds of thousands extra have taken place worldwide. The worldwide market hit $6.3 billion in 2022 and is projected to achieve $26.8 billion in 10 years.

Robotic-assisted gadgets are FDA-cleared throughout many specialties. For prostate removals and hysterectomies, using surgical robots is now extra widespread than not. It’s additionally quickly rising in bariatric surgical procedure and hernia restore, and has elevated steadily in hip and knee replacements. A number of surgical groups have pioneered robot-assisted kidney transplants, and not too long ago the Washington College Faculty of Medication in St. Louis reported the primary robotic liver transplant within the U.S.

Probably the most extensively used robotic system within the U.S. is Intuitive Surgical’s da Vinci. The FDA first accredited a da Vinci in 2000 and has cleared newer fashions since then. Right this moment, greater than 7,500 da Vinci surgical programs are in use in 69 nations throughout six continents. 

Dozens of different corporations have entered the sport. Advances in supplies science are driving mushy, versatile designs that may navigate winding pathways or function on a number of the physique’s most delicate tissues. 

Auris Well being’s Monarch, a versatile robotic endoscopic system, enters by the mouth into the trachea and bronchial passages to look at doubtlessly cancerous tissue within the lungs. The platform not too long ago earned a urological clearance for kidney stone elimination. Different versatile robots enter the rectum and journey by intestines, as for colonoscopy. Nonetheless others snake by the nostril to achieve the mind, or the thigh’s femoral vein to get to the guts. 

An improve of Stryker’s Mako robotic, at present used for hip and knee replacements, will allow its use in backbone and shoulder surgical procedure and will launch as early as subsequent yr. (The medical doctors interviewed for this text usually are not selling or endorsing any merchandise talked about.) 

In the meantime, synthetic intelligence, or AI, is letting researchers and builders make robots extra autonomous, able to performing surgical subtasks and even complete surgical procedures.

“It’s an thrilling time,” stated Michael Yip, PhD, an affiliate professor {of electrical} and pc engineering, and director of the Superior Robotics and Controls Laboratory, on the College of California San Diego. “The range of robotic applied sciences is absolutely widening exponentially.”

Advantages for Sufferers

Information exhibits that robotic surgical procedure can assist scale back bleeding, scarring, and restoration time, and it permits for shorter hospital stays, in comparison with conventional surgical procedure. 

Probably the most putting advantages: Many sufferers, like Pollack, don’t want opioids – or any painkillers, for that matter. That’s exceptional when you think about the norm. 

For kidney transplant, “it’s 100% narcotic use after an open transplant,” stated Thomas Pshak, MD, a robotic kidney and liver transplant surgeon at UCHealth College of Colorado Hospital. Open surgical procedure sufferers go house with as a lot as per week’s provide of opioids, and typically want morphine or oxycodone in an IV after surgical procedure.

Robotic surgical procedure sufferers heal a lot quicker, returning to work and regular actions inside a number of weeks, vs. the advisable 8 weeks after open kidney transplant. 

“A painless kidney transplant looks as if science fiction, however right here we’re,” Pshak stated.

He makes use of a da Vinci surgical robotic system with 4 slender arms, every in regards to the measurement of a pencil, that maintain surgical devices and a high-definition digital camera. Throughout surgical procedure, he sits at a pc console a number of toes away, wanting by binoculars that present a extremely magnified 3D view of the operation web site. With each arms on joystick-type controls, he guides the arms into the cuts to carry out “delicate, exact actions,” similar to suturing the brand new kidney to blood vessels. Foot pedals interact and disengage the robotic arms. 

photo of doctor with robot

Pshak carried out UCHealths first robotic kidney transplant in 2021 and has performed greater than a dozen since then, and much more donor kidney removals, utilizing the robotic. With robotic kidney transplant, “the most important incision is about 2 inches, close to the bellybutton,” he stated. For context, a standard open kidney transplant entails a 10- to 12-inch minimize.

Robotics might enhance entry to surgical procedure as nicely. One-third of sufferers ready for a donated kidney have physique mass indexes over 35. The upper BMI can imply longer, deeper cuts, growing the chance of problems and adverse outcomes. The much less invasive robotic process may make kidney transplant doable for these sufferers.

Advantages for Docs

In a way, robotics give surgeons superhuman abilities. The robotic can right for any tremor within the surgeons hand and lets a surgeon view hard-to-see creases, shifting the digital camera and small instruments into locations the human hand can’t attain.

“I can set the [robot] arm actions to maneuver at one-tenth of my regular hand motion,” Pshak stated. “That simply permits for some insane accuracy.”

In spinal surgical procedure, robotics decrease the misplacement of a screw. Which means “a decrease revision price – having to return and take away and change a misplaced screw,” stated Mohamad Bydon, MD, a neurosurgeon and clinician-scientist on the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, MN, the place they’ve been performing robotic neurosurgeries since 2018.

Bydon was the lead creator of a examine in Mayo Clinic Proceedings that reported that out of 402 screws positioned in 77 sufferers who had robot-assisted spinal surgical procedure, none needed to be redone after surgical procedure.

Different benefits, Bydon famous, embrace the power to map out the surgical procedure prematurely, and sub-millimeter accuracy round a affected person’s nerves and spinal twine. “It preserves muscle tissues, tendons, and ligaments,” he stated.

Corey Walker, MD, is a neurosurgeon at Cedars-Sinai in Los Angeles who carried out minimally invasive robotic again surgical procedure on a highschool soccer participant final yr after the participant fractured his backbone in three spots. The robots gather information that’s fed again into AI algorithms to enhance planning and accuracy. “The robotic isn’t just giving us a technical benefit,” Walker famous, “but additionally an information benefit.”

After surgical procedure, the soccer participant was again to regular actions and coaching once more inside weeks as a substitute of the traditional 6 months.

With youthful sufferers, Walker stated, it’s necessary to protect their longevity and keep away from damage to the muscle tissues surrounding the backbone. Robotic procedures “depart as little of a footprint on the construction of the backbone as doable.”

Robotic Surgical procedure: What Sufferers and Docs Ought to Know

In the US, educational medical institutions and hospitals have developed their very own credentialing paths. Many robotic surgeons practice in typical surgical strategies and later transfer into robotic procedures, taking web-based and in-person programs with gear producers, practising on pattern tissues, in digital actuality simulations, and on inanimate objects (like choosing up small gadgets or peeling tape from a floor). 

Some surgeons and medical facilities supply robotic coaching for these outdoors their establishment. On the Ohio State College Faculty of Medication, surgeons from around the globe can go to, observing present and rising robotic procedures for $500 a day. 

“The largest problem with robotics is that it’s so automated, it typically takes away from the residents’ capacity to be taught the anatomy,” Walker stated. “Our problem is to nonetheless be capable of train residents the anatomy and to not change into reliant on the know-how.”

Sufferers ought to look right into a hospital’s historical past with robotics and ask what number of procedures their establishment and surgeon have carried out, as Pollack did earlier than her surgical procedure. Not all surgical procedures are appropriate for robotics; sufferers and surgeons ought to focus on execs and cons.


Robotic surgical procedure is just not with out controversy. A 2021 overview of fifty randomized trials evaluating robot-assisted surgical procedures with laparoscopy and/or open surgical procedure for stomach or pelvic surgical procedure discovered little distinction in outcomes. 

Some older research counsel dangers or doubtlessly worse outcomes for some procedures. In 2018, a New England Journal of Medication multicenter examine led by MD Anderson Most cancers Middle researchers reported that, in ladies with early cervical most cancers, laparoscopic or robotic minimally invasive radical hysterectomy was linked to decrease charges of disease-free survival and total survival, when in comparison with open stomach radical hysterectomy. And in 2021, the FDA cautioned in opposition to robotically assisted surgical gadget use for mastectomy.

Nonetheless, scores of different current research again up robot-assisted surgical procedure’s advantages.

One disadvantage: It’s not obtainable in every single place. “It’s a must to be at a spot that’s prepared to spend money on it and that believes in it as a know-how,” Walker stated. 

For sure specialties, the excessive price (the da Vinci’s price ticket is reported to be $2 million) might not outweigh the return on funding, Yip stated , stalling development.

In line with Francis Sutter, DO, chief of cardiac surgical procedure at Lankenau Medical Middle, a part of Predominant Line Well being, and a longtime robotic surgeon, the variety of robotic coronary heart surgical procedures has fallen previously 10 years. 

“There’s not a marketplace for it,” he stated. “I hope there might be extra curiosity from cardiac surgeons within the years forward.”

What’s Subsequent?

Semi-autonomous gadgets that carry out surgical duties – like holding a clamp in place or eradicating broken tissues – may begin to emerge clinically within the subsequent 10 years, Yip stated. 

Like a self-driving automobile, they use sensors to localize with respect to anatomy and map the setting.

Sometime, we may even see absolutely autonomous robots able to performing a complete process. At Johns Hopkins final yr, surgeons examined a brand new robotic know-how referred to as Sensible Tissue Autonomous Robotic (STAR) that visualizes and plans its subsequent surgical transfer virtually in actual time. They efficiently practiced with it in 4 experiments, stitching collectively pig intestines, tissue that’s mushy, pliable, and tough to function on.

For hemorrhage management, Yip stated, “the pc acknowledges blood and can instantly attempt to suck up the blood, discover the supply, and clamp it.” Such robots may very well be airdropped throughout, say, pure disasters to stabilize injured folks. The know-how may additionally open the door to distant “telesurgery.”

Nonetheless, fears that robots will change surgeons altogether are inflated, consultants say. For the foreseeable future, robots will improve the work of the surgeon, not change it, Bydon, of the Mayo Clinic, stated. 

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