Would you let a robot operate on you? This photo provided by Axel Krieger/Science Translational Medicine shows Dr. Azad Shademan and Ryan Decker during supervised autonomous in-vivo bowel anastomosis performed by the Smart Tissue Autonomous Robot (STAR). (Image below) Dr. Barry Gardiner demonstrates the Da Vinci Surgical System (Axel Krieger/Science Translational Medicine via AP/AP Photo/Charles Bennett)
Would you let a robot operate on you?
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Getting stitched up by Dr. Robot may one day be reality. Scientists have created a robotic system that did just that in living animals without a real doctor pulling the strings.
 
Much like engineers are designing self-driving cars, the medical research is part of a move toward autonomous surgical robots. They can remove the surgeon's hands from certain tasks. Instead, a machine might perform those tasks all by itself.
 
No, doctors wouldn't leave the bedside. They're supposed to supervise. Plus, they'd handle the rest of the surgery. Nor is the device ready for operating rooms.
 
Small tests have been performed using pigs. The robotic arm performed at least as well, and in some cases a bit better, as some competing surgeons in stitching together intestinal tissue. Researchers reported this in the journal Science Translational Medicine.
 
"The purpose wasn't to replace surgeons," said Dr. Peter C. W. Kim of Children's National Health System in Washington. Kim is a pediatric surgeon who led the project. "If you have an intelligent tool that works with a surgeon, can it improve the outcome? That's what we have done."
 
If you've heard about machines like the popular Da Vinci system, you might think robots already are operating. Not really. Today many hospitals offer robot-assisted surgery. Surgeons use the machinery as tools that they manually control. They are used typically to operate through tiny openings in the body. But robot-assisted surgery has been controversial. Some studies have shown it can bring higher costs without better outcomes.
 
So why the push for next-generation autonomous robots? Proponents think there are cases where a machine's precision may outperform a human hand.
 
The latest project is "the first baby step toward true autonomy." That is according to Dr. Umamaheswar Duvvuri of the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center. He is a head and neck surgeon and robotic specialist. He wasn't involved with the new work.
 
But don't expect to see doctors ever leave entire operations in a robot's digits, he cautioned.
 
It's designed to do one specific task, stitch up tissue. The machine is a lot like the automation trend in other industries. Robot arms do the welding and painting in most U.S. car assembly lines, for example. They can find inventory in warehouses. From the driver's perspective, many cars now are able to warn drivers when they're too close to the car in front, or take control and apply the brakes to prevent a crash.
 
The new STAR system stands for Smart Tissue Autonomous Robot. It works sort of like a programmable sewing machine.
 
Kim's team at Children's Sheikh Zayed Institute for Pediatric Surgical Innovation took a standard robotic arm and equipped it with suturing equipment plus smart imaging technologies to let it track moving tissue in 3-D and with an equivalent of night vision. They added sensors, too. Those helped guide each stitch and tell how tightly to pull.
 
The surgeon places fluorescent markers on the tissue that needs stitching. Then the robot takes aim as doctors keep watch.
 
Now the test: Could the STAR reconnect tubular pieces of intestinal tissue from pigs, sort of like two ends of a garden hose? Any soft-tissue surgeries are tricky for machinery because those tissues move out of place so easily. And the stitches in these connections must be placed precisely to avoid leaks or blockages. It is a challenge even for experts.
 
Using pieces of pig bowel outside of the animals' bodies as well as in five living but sedated pigs, the researchers tested the STAR robot against open surgery, minimally invasive surgery and robot-assisted surgery.
 
By some measures - the consistency of stitches and their strength to avoid leaks - "we surpassed the surgeons," said Children's engineer Ryan Decker.
 
The STAR approach wasn't perfect. The STAR had to reposition fewer stitches than the surgeons performing minimally invasive or robot-assisted suturing. But in the living animals, the robot took much longer. It also made a few suturing mistakes while the surgeon sewing by hand made none.
 
Kim's team has filed patents on the system. He said the robot can be sped up. He hopes to begin human studies in two or three years.

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CRITICAL THINKING QUESTION
What are the advantages of robotic surgeons?
Write your answers in the comments section below


COMMENTS (126)
  • trifenag-pel
    5/10/2016 - 09:29 a.m.

    Robotic surgery offers many benefits to patients .

  • skylarb-pel
    5/10/2016 - 09:29 a.m.

    I think this is a bad idea because what if it gets hacked or breaks down then everything will break down.

  • stacys-1-nic
    5/10/2016 - 01:10 p.m.

    Advantages of robotic surgeons are they fallow procedures, know what they are doing, they are trained, they are responsible, and they have everything organized and thought through. I personally would not let a robot operate on me because I don't even like actual doctors rather than having a robot doctor. I would not trust a robot doctor because what if they dysfunction.

  • luciam-pel
    5/10/2016 - 01:26 p.m.

    This ,I belive, is not a good idea.Because what if the machine breaks or gets hacked?This has to many risks and I would never let this machine operate on me.

  • TehyaWhite-Ste
    5/10/2016 - 01:31 p.m.

    I would let a robot work on me because I think they're more precise. Plus, they aren't always on their own. Real live people watch and direct these machines.

  • blakes-kut
    5/10/2016 - 03:04 p.m.

    The advantages is that it will be faster. Also it has a chance of doing better then a professional. I believe It will go faster and not get tired. But when there are advantages there are also disadvantages. For example what would happen if it ran out of battery in the middle of surgery? Or if it broke? I wish there was a survey on who would let robots work on then and who would not. I would be Interesting to se the results.

  • malachig-kut
    5/10/2016 - 03:40 p.m.

    To answer the question, no I would not. What if there is a malfunction and I get hurt. There would be less jobs.

  • joshm-kut
    5/10/2016 - 07:15 p.m.

    the advantage is that doctors wont have to put stiches into u and the disadvantage is that the robot could shut down or make a mistake in the stitching

  • Eric0221-YYCA
    5/10/2016 - 07:46 p.m.

    The researchers had been able to build an autonomous operation robot that would be replacing human hands from the operation on certain things while they are testing out the autonomous operation robot. The autonomous operation robot would be replacing doctors on operating an patient and letting the operation robot doing the operation on the patient instead of the doctors doing the operation on the patient. The operation robots would be able to replace the human hands to the work of the operation made by the robots that is better than using humans in operations. The robot would be able to do the operations instead of humans doing the operations which the robot had gotten its design after the autonomous cars had been made.
    Critical Thinking Question: What are the advantages of robotic surgeons?
    Answer: I know that the advantages of robotic surgeons is that the advantages of robotic surgeons is that the robots would be able to do a better job than humans had it wouldn't need anything to operate by the human hands.

  • jakez-kut
    5/10/2016 - 09:04 p.m.

    What about if the robot shuts down mid surgery? Or the power goes out? Or the robot gets hacked?

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