5. Suture stitching robot outperforms surgeonsA new study from Johns Hopkins University suggests that surgical robots can adjust to the subtle movements that soft tissues make during surgery to be able to suture precisely and consistently.
Surgeries that involve rigid structures like bones use limited robotic automation because those structures are easier to hold still during procedures. Soft tissue surgeries involve more slippery parts that are more difficult to grasp, resulting in the surgeon having to respond accordingly and keep tight sutures.
Simon Leonard, a Johns Hopkins University computer scientist, and his team have been working for four years to program a robotic arm that can precisely stitch together pieces of soft tissue.
The robot in the study sutured together two structures in a procedure called anastomosis, where two tubular structures are joined. The researchers claim that leakage occurs along the seams almost 20% of the time in colorectal surgery and 25-30% in abdominal surgery.
The Smart Tissue Autonomous Robot (STAR) was the robotic surgical system that the researchers used to perform soft tissue surgery. It uses a 3D imaging system and a near-infrared sensor to detect fluorescent markers on the edges of the tissue that helps keep the suture needle on track under a surgeon’s supervision. It doesn’t require any hands-on guidance to work.
Five surgeons completed the same procedure using open, laparoscopic and robot-assisted surgery. The researchers compared the consistency of the suture spacing, the pressure that made the seam leak, mistakes that resulted in the needle being removed from tissue or having to restart the robot and how long it took to complete the procedure.
The research showed that the robot took longer than open and robot-assisted surgery and was comparable to laparoscopic procedures. At 35 to 57 minutes long, the robotic procedure took more than four times the amount of time open surgery took, which was 8 minutes. However, the robot performed better than the surgeons on all other fronts.
The robotic system is not yet available in operating rooms. The researchers suggest that the system is not intended to replace surgeons, but hopes that it will improve results in patients and make better surgical techniques.