The promise of quicker recovery, reduced trauma and improved clinical outcomes has been the catalyst behind the development of surgical robotics, with the global market for robot-assisted surgery forecast to be worth £31bn by 2026.
Medical companies around the world are racing to develop technologies that make surgeries safer and less invasive. Just yesterday US-business Johnson & Johnson agreed to buy surgical robotics company Auris Health Inc for £2.65bn.
Auris’ Monarch Platform reportedly improves upon existing minimally invasive techniques by integrating robotics, micro-instrumentation, endoscope design, sensing, and data science into one platform to enable new levels of care.
Specialising in the treatment of lung conditions, the platform is able to accurately access small and hard-to-reach lung nodules for early diagnosis and treatment targeting.
This acquisition comes after a team led by Professor Philip Breedon, of the Medical Design Research Group, created a system that allows two robotic arms to perform spinal surgery with accuracy greater than humans.
The technology works by semi-autonomously drilling holes in individual vertebrae and inserting pedicle screws, in order to reduce the impacts of conditions such as scoliosis or kyphosis.
The research also explored the use of augmented reality to provide surgeons with live visual feedback to illustrate the depth of each hole as it is drilled. Accuracy of drilling has been recorded at 0.1 of a millimetre.
“Surgeons performing life-changing operations to correct spinal conditions such as scoliosis or kyphosis have to ensure pinpoint levels of accuracy are achieved to avoid causing unnecessary and potentially serious injuries,” said Professor Breedon.
Automation & AI will transform healthcare
“AI will transform healthcare systems that we have come to know. For example, the way AI and automation can be applied to surgery,” Loubna Bouarfa, CEO & founder of OKRA Technologies, an artificial intelligence company specialising in healthcare, told TM.
“It will reduce manual and repetitive tasks, and enhance highly precise ones. Across industries I think we will see that it improves operations, and in healthcare it can assist professionals to do their job better and build their knowledge as it is an evidence-based industry.
“We also won’t have to wait until we get sick to see a doctor, but instead AI algorithms will be flagging us to get health checks, track our medical history and know our family’s.”
Bouarfa adds: “It is not just diagnosing people earlier, it is eradicating the wrong medication routes, the time of being unwell, so not only is quality of life improved, AI offers a much more cost-effective approach.”
Cost-effective & portable robots for surgery
A small and cost-effective surgical robotic system was unveiled last year, as part of a mission to provide greater access to beneficial minimal access surgery.
The Versius robot has been created and built by the CMR Surgical team in Cambridge.
It aims to reset expectations of robotic surgery by providing a versatile system that is portable and affordable.
This is made possible because of its size, modular design and individually cart-mounted arms. Versius is easy to move between operating rooms and even hospitals, quick to set up and gives surgical teams easy access to patients at all times.
Biomimicking the human arm, Versius allows surgeons the freedom of port placement, but with the benefits of small precision instruments.
With 3D HD vision, easy-to adopt instrument control and a choice of ergonomic working positions, it is hoped the new open surgeon console will aid complex surgeries.
What is biomimicry?
Biomimicry is the imitation of natural structures and or processes. It has already led to a number of manufacturing, designing and technological advancements, from aerodynamic vehicles and strategic design to innovations in the renewable and healthcare sectors.
At present, robotic-assisted surgery is not yet performing the majority of available surgical procedures. However this technology has the potential to minimise risks by performing key parts of surgical operations with accuracy that cannot be achieved by a human hand.
These are innovative examples of how robotics can enhance the way in which intrusive operations are carried out, upgrade patient safety and ensure efficiency of process.