Researchers in the United States have predicted that new innovative robot technology could be a commercial medical tool before the end of the decade.
The machine in question is the aptly named STAR or the Smart Tissue Autonomous Robot.
It is enabled to complete sutures during surgery of soft tissue like muscles and tendons, fat and ligaments, a notoriously difficult task in the best circumstances, say medical experts.
The STAR was used by surgeons to stitch the bowel of a pig. It recovered without complications.
Health experts have suggested that much more trialling awaits the technology before regulatory authorities sign off on the STAR before it can become a regular option in the operating theatre.
The researchers involved – from the Children’s National Health System in Washington, DC and Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, Maryland -published their findings this week in the journal Science Translational Medicine.
‘The operating room may someday be run by robots, with surgeons overseeing their moves,’ they write.
In their test, the STAR was ‘competing’ with a traditional manual procedure and robot-assisted surgery (RAS) techniques like the da Vinci, used in cardiac valve repair.
They found that the STAR was ‘far superior’ in performance and outcome than any other kind of technique.
There are over 40 million soft tissue procedures a year in the USA alone, and autonomous robotic surgery promises tremendous benefits, they claim in their report.
Still, researchers imagine that the STAR will not mean an end to human involvement in surgery since it requires supervision.
Rather RAS is a sophisticated tool, they write which, ‘removing the surgeon’s hands—promises enhanced efficacy, safety, and improved access to optimised surgical techniques.’
Lead researcher Peter Kim of the Sheikh Zayed Institute explained in a press conference: “Surgeons do three things,” he said.
“We use our vision and we use our hands for dexterity and when we use our mind as cognition to make a judgement and then carry it out… [The STAR enabled us] to improve on all these things.”
The STAR uses an infrared and 3D imaging system, the researchers said in their paper, and ‘inspired by the best human surgical practices, a computer program generates a plan to complete complex surgical tasks on deformable tissue.’
Kim said that even if surgeons traditionally take much pride in their craft and abilities, “to have a machine or tool that works with us in ensuring better outcome safety and reducing complications would be a tremendous benefit.”
With the right [commercial] partner the technology could be on the market within three years, he said.