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)
  • cassiec-kut
    5/11/2016 - 08:55 a.m.

    it is not a good idea to do it beacause if the machene malfunctions what then will the robot contenue doing the wrong thing on the paitent for a very inportend operation the only thing this robot id good for it saves human time on ther operation and it does not even matter if the robot is hightec or not we want to trust are docters and not die from a robot that cant do sujeray and if it malfunctions we dont know what could happen

  • magdalenen-
    5/11/2016 - 10:54 a.m.

    Some of the advantages of a robot can be that it doesn't make mistakes and won't forget how to do the surgeries.Robots know a lot of thing and will know mostly everything more than a human can.The thing is that Robots can get hacked or glitched and can put the patient in a risk or danger.

  • GigiSylvester-Ste
    5/11/2016 - 01:11 p.m.

    No, this is scary!! I wont even get surgery if a human is operating on me!

  • autianae-ste
    5/11/2016 - 01:20 p.m.

    I have two opinions on "robotic surgeons". What if there was a malfunction with the robot or it completely fails the surgery? The doctors and engineers would have to make up for it. On the other hand, what if the robot is better than a human surgeon?

  • kerstynneh1-wes
    5/11/2016 - 02:38 p.m.

    The robot/machine could malfunction and go crazy and hurt someone it could also malfunction or glitch out. I would never let the operate me unless a doctor is involved

  • tessf-6-bar
    5/11/2016 - 05:32 p.m.

    One advantage of having a robot-operation is that if done correctly, it can be more precise than a human hand. The article states that, "Proponents think there are cases where a machine's precision may outperform a human hand." (paragraph 7).
    Though I think it is cool that people are coming up with these inventions, I would definitely prefer to be operated on a human surgeon for now. Robots can have unexpected glitches, so I would wait until they are further developed before I would put my trust into it.

  • summerc-1-bar
    5/11/2016 - 06:16 p.m.

    The advantages of robotic surgeons are that if robotic surgeons do enter an operating room, then there will be better results for the patients leaving them. The robots can assist the surgeon during an operation.
    I found this to be an interesting article because having robots assist us during surgery may improve how well the operation goes. Though I would be nervous if I had a machine operating on me.

  • lilyr-4-bar
    5/11/2016 - 08:49 p.m.

    The advantages of robotic surgeons are they could assist a human surgeon and their movements may be more accurate. This is shown where it says,'"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."' I found this article interesting because I might want to be a doctor when I'm older.

  • isaach-kut
    5/12/2016 - 07:59 a.m.

    A robot could break down, and they could put in a human risk of 50/50 chance of hurting someone or something.

  • isabellaa-612-
    5/12/2016 - 08:44 a.m.

    The advantages are that humans can work on someone else while the robot works on the one person. A disadvantage is they are expensive and there is a possibility it might mess up and destroy all human race.

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