Robot performs surgery without human help for the first time

The robot did a‘significantly better’ job than humans in performing a tricky procedure to connect two ends of intestine in a pig.

A robot has successfully carried out a keyhole surgery on a pig without the help of humans. In a new study, researchers are hopeful the procedure will mark a significant step in fully automating operations on humans.

Surgical automation

Researchers at the Johns Hopkins University say the robot surgeon produced ‘significantly better’ results than humans at a procedure which requires a high level of precision.

The Smart Tissue Autonomous Robot (The Star) performed the delicate laparoscopic—keyhole —surgery in four animals. The operation involved connecting two ends of an intestine, which could go fatally wrong with the slightest hand tremor.

Axel Krieger, one of the researchers and senior author of the report, said it marked the first time a robot had performed laparoscopic surgery without human help. He added:

Our findings show that we can automate one of the most intricate and delicate tasks in surgery: the reconnection of two ends of an intestine. The Star performed the procedure in four animals, and it produced significantly better results than humans performing the same procedure.

Improved settings

Experts say connecting two ends of an intestine is by far the most challenging step in gastrointestinal surgery, requiring a surgeon to apply stitches with high accuracy and consistency.

However, it is also especially hard for robots to perform soft tissue surgery due to its unpredictable nature—they may not be able to adapt quickly to handle unexpected obstacles. The paper set out a novel control system in the Star that can adjust the surgical plan in real time, just as a human surgeon would. Dr Krieger, who helped create the robot, said:

What makes the Star special is that it is the first robotic system to plan, adapt, and execute a surgical plan in soft tissue with minimal human intervention. Robotic anastomosis (surgically joining two structures) is one way to ensure that surgical tasks that require high precision and repeatability can be performed with more accuracy and precision in every patient independent of surgeon skill.
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