New TechMed center at UTwente
Stefano Stramigioli is directing a leading medical robotics lab at UTwente and also coordinating the MURAB project:
“In 2003 Peter Vooijs, the co-founder of the Technical Medicine programme," says Stramigioli, "hired Ivo Broeders as the first part-time professor of clinical robotics. Together with Ivo, we came up with the basic idea for the Teleflex project. The idea for the surgical robot arose from a conversation between a clinician and a technician. Surgical robotics in Twente actually started with the Robotics and Mechatronics (RaM) programme in 2007. We now have a number of part-time clinicians on the staff, including the radiologist Jürgen Futterer, who manage the clinical side of things, since engineers are very good at solving problems that don’t exist.”
"In time, robotics will make a lot of use of artificial intelligence (AI). AI will be very useful in the field of medical imaging. Before we can design a “brain” for a robot, we need a “body”. One of the things we are working on in RaM is the basic mechatronics for robots. For example, for the last six years we have been developing MRI-compatible actuators and robots for medical applications. We are among the global leaders in this field and our actuators and robots have earned a number of awards. Because of our very high-quality printing facilities we can immediately make whatever we come up with. The process is accelerating at the moment because of the convergence of developments in robotics, AI and printing. Prototyping techniques need to be close at hand, since otherwise a lot of time will be lost."
Oncology and cardiovascular disease are the two major medical issues of our time. “We are engaged in a number of projects relating to the breast, because breast cancer is the number one cause of death among women and because of the challenges arising from the deformation of breast tissue. I believe that being able to manoeuvre a needle in the breast with an accuracy of less than a millimetre will make other problems trivial. Another area is the liver, which moves as we breathe. I recently spoke to Bob Geelkerken about cardiovascular disorders and we want to do something in relation to guiding catheters and fitting stents. It is still early days with that project but I am very enthusiastic about it."
"We collaborate very closely with hospitals in the Netherlands through the faculty of Technical Medicine, says Stramigioli. ‘We also have a very intensive partnership with IRCAD, an international institute for research into digestive cancer. Consequently, we are supplied with ideas from the clinic and we have an environment in which to test them.
We have won numerous prizes with our MRI-compatible robotics. There was amazement at our success in simultaneously miniaturizing and perfecting them in just five years. As I mentioned before, I now want to develop a ‘super needle’ that can be positioned precisely, optically examine the tissue in situ and immediately cauterize it if necessary. That is the future of oncological surgery. It is very widely applicable, with the exception of some large tumours."
"We are now working on MRI-driven pneumatic robots, with the smallest actuators to the breast, prostate and liver, says Stramigioli. In the field of soft robotics, there are new concepts for endoscopes that are soft and powered by compressed air. That project is part of the Robotics Flagship, a major European project in which I am one of the seven team members.
Vascular surgery is a very highly specialized discipline that is hedged by many uncertainties. With robotics you can make a great many improvements in care."