With minimal supervision and absolutely no need for an emergency rescue, a robot just demonstrated its ability to perform soft tissue surgery. Soft tissue surgery because of its malleable and unpredictable nature is challenging even for the most skilled surgeon. For this reason researchers have stayed unconvinced that robots would be able to work on soft tissue, but they and all other skeptics have now been proved wrong by the STAR robot.
The STAR robot which stands for Smart Tissue Autonomous Robot and is a creation of researchers from the Children’s National Health System in Washington, DC is being projected as the next great surgical tool. It is hoped that it and other future, smarter surgical tools will work with surgeons to mitigate complications and provide better outcomes.
The STAR robot was developed to perform complex surgical tasks and in the case in question it reconnected pig bowel segments. Equipped with a robotic arm and surgical tools, the STAR robot performed the procedure under the supervision of a human surgeon. The research was published Wednesday in the journal of Science Translational Medicine.
The procedure officially known as an intestinal anastomosis involves connecting two tubular sections of intestines and the researchers performed two different procedures, one ex vivo and one in vivo, connecting two segments of a pig’s bowel. The procedure was fully autonomous, meaning it was programmed into the robot and the surgeons were only there to supervise. Both of the procedures were highly successful and it has been described as unique because the robot relied on a special infrared camera system that operated much like night vision devices.
Fluorescing biomarkers were added to the tissue to highlight the surgical field and guide the robot. Afterwards, the robot’s techniques were placed side by side with human surgeons and current robot-assisted techniques and results showed that the STAR robot outperformed both. The data also shows that the robots consistently performed better than the surgeons alone.
The robot’s techniques were then pitted against . The results showed that the STAR robot outperformed both the human surgeons and current robotic techniques. The suture spacing and tension were consistent, indicating that this technology would be a major benefit. With results like these, there is a real possibility that in the not too far away future, some surgeries could be performed by robots and that is both an exciting and a scary thought.