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?
Lexile

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 that a machine might perform 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.
 
But in small tests 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 it 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," said Dr. Umamaheswar Duvvuri of the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center. He is a head and neck surgeon and robotic specialist who 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, whose team has filed patents on the system, 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 (18)
  • sebastianr-6-bar
    5/10/2016 - 12:34 a.m.

    The advantages of robotic surgeons are the precision of how the robot operates on the person, shorter hospital stay, less blood lose, less pain, and faster return to normal activity (recovery). I think this invention is a very cool one because over all it makes pretty much everybody's life less complicated and it does the job better than it is already done by a normal human.

  • lukem-orv
    5/10/2016 - 03:27 p.m.

    There is some advantages like robots don't barf, get tried, get nervous, need breaks, and more reasons.

  • vincents-1-bar
    5/11/2016 - 07:35 p.m.

    The advantages of robot surgeons is that, " 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 if robot surgeons do proceed in an operating room then there will be better results for the patients leaving them with a better recovery. I think that it is very creative that people have thought of using robots as surgeons because this can lead to a benefited patient and hospital because of the robot's help.

  • michaelm1-ver
    5/13/2016 - 08:49 a.m.

    I would not trust my life with a robot, even if they were to be perfected.

  • alexanderc-6-bar
    5/16/2016 - 08:20 p.m.

    The advantages of robotic surgeons are the precision of how the robot operates on the person, shorter hospital stay, less blood lose, less pain, and faster return to normal activity (recovery). I think this invention is a very cool one because over all it makes pretty much everybody's life less complicated and it does the job better than it is already done by a normal human.

  • theaw-4-bar
    5/16/2016 - 09:15 p.m.

    The advantages of robotic surgeons are that they can be more accurate and precise than human surgeons. The "machine's precision may outperform a human hand." I liked this article because I think surgery is very interesting. I also find it crazy that a robot may some day replace human surgeons.

  • jacksonm-2-bar
    5/17/2016 - 10:33 a.m.

    The pros of robotic surgeons is the accuracy of how the robot operates on the people. Here are are some examples, shorter hospital stay, less blood lose, less pain, and a way faster recovery back to their daily life. I thought this article was an eye opener to me because I have always wanted to know just how much a robot can do and now I know.

  • nickh-1-nic
    5/18/2016 - 12:59 p.m.

    Robots won't get sick. They will not mess up as bad. You can trust them so yes I would let a robot operate on me.

  • sarahr-ver
    5/20/2016 - 09:14 a.m.

    I think if I was in the OR, I would not feel safe with a robot operating on me. There could be complicatins. Even with a real human doing the operating there could still be complications but I would still feel safer.

  • phoebeh-ter
    5/20/2016 - 09:29 a.m.

    Honestly, I wouldn't let a robot control me because I'm my own person and how boring would life be if EVERYONE was operated by a robot? Life would be boring and useless if we all did the same thing over and over again daily

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