"The future of surgery is not about blood and guts; the future of surgery is about bits and bytes.”
/Dr. Richard Satava/

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

UW - BioRobotics Lab

After the ATA2008 conference I was privileged to be invited to the University of Washington to visit Prof. Blake Hannaford's BioRobotics lab. I met him first at the 3rd Summer European University in Montpellier, France last September, where we teleoperated the lab's Raven robot through internet form over 10.000 km. I was looking forward to the occasion to see the device with my own eyes.
The UW is huge, covering almost 650 acres with Collegiate Gothic style buildings on the shore of the lake Washington, homing more than 40.000 students. The BioRob people have spent most of their time to build robots, gaining expertize in cable-driven systems. Their multi-purpose teleoperatable 6DOF surgical robot is called the Raven. It was primarily developed for DARPA, as a light-weight and universal alternative of the da Vinci. In the past two years it took part in field test in California and underwater(base) test in Florida, within the frames of the NASA NEEMO 12 misison. Nowadays, they are focusing on the possible applications of the Raven (e.g. suction during neurosurgery), and assembling a larger, 5DOF positioning arm.
They had built robots before, such as the Blue Dragon robot to acquire the kinematics and dynamics of endoscopic tools along with the surgical view. I liked most their new 3rd generation exoskeleton, which is light-weight and has impressive workspace. They are also interested in tissue contact modeling and haptics. I am grateful to the folks for the great tour and guidance in and out the lab!

Saturday, April 26, 2008

ATA 2008 Meeting

The American Telemedicine Association (ATA) is "the leading resource and advocate promoting access to medical care for consumers and health professionals via telecommunications technology." This year, the annual international meeting and expo took place in Seattle, April 6-8. The 2200 attendees could choose from 450 concurrent oral presentations to listen to, along with 10 plenaries, a poster session and many other meetings and forums. During the conference days, more than 150 companies and associations presented their telemedicine solutions and technological development in the Expo area of the Seattle Convention Center.
The majority of the presentations were related to the military (e.g. funded by the DoD or DARPA). There were less technological talks, many people introduced results from field tests or actual medical applications. (Such as the telemedicine efforts to recover disaster stoke areas, the mobile robotic visiting doctor, or long distance telementoring). There were two sessions partially dealing with robotics. I learned more about the HIFU (high intensity focused ultra-sound) robot of ENERGID Ltd. that will reach the market soon. It is based on a Harvard manipulator, and capable of navigating the US probe around the skin, applying the same pressure (with hybrid position-force control). I was very happy to see a presentation on the Raven robot from the University of Washington, on the NEEMO 12 mission it took part in, and meet the professionals of the SRI who developed the M7 surgical robot and tested it in space recently. They have excellent video and image materials on their website.
Among the plenaries, probably the best was Lee Woodruff writer's talk about the touching story how his husband lost half of his head due to an exploding IAD in Iraq, and recovered later with the help of telemedicine.
It was a little disappointing that the two third of the exhibitors at the Expo offered simple wireless, telecom based health solutions. There were useful devices as well, e.g. wireless glucometers, but only a few with real technological novelties. I enjoyed the booths of the TATRC (Telemedicine and Advanced Technologies Research Center). They had very interesting research concepts to present, such as the the Second Life based virtual training of combat surgeons, the mobile robot capable of retreating wounded soldiers from battlefield. It was apparent that the biggest multinational companies (Microsoft, Intel, AT&T) also moved to the health care industry, and getting involved a bit in the research as well.

Wednesday, April 2, 2008

Further materials on the web

To begin reading on surgical robotics, I do recommend to take a look at the Brown University Robotic Surgery Lab's website (pic). It is regularly updates, and goes through not only the history of the surgical robots, but also the different types of treatments, procedures. The authors collected interesting statistics and made a couple of interviews with surgeons using the da Vinci.
Probably the most complete list of ongoing projects can be found at the Heidelberg University's page. The MEdical RObotics DAtabase lists almost all research initiatives with available data. Another extensive list on the major systems is at CAIAC.
The best coverage on the news of robotic surgery is given by the Medgadget blog. The enthusiastic team of professional and amateur writers post about every kind of technology in health care from genetic engineering techniques to defibrillators.
If you are looking for materials that goes deeper into the topic, it's recommended to visit the Summer European Universities on Surgical Robotics homepages at the LIRMM. All the presentations are free to download, under School materials.
Naturally, several labs and research institutes publish results and scientific materials, the easiest is to Google for them. Finally, the medical publication databases, such as the PubMed or the Medscape can help you find a paper of interest. The new ScienceRoll search engine integrates all these, and many more.
Further suggestions for readings are welcome!