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Rise Of The Robots

Robotic-assisted surgery, medical nanobots, and therapeutic exoskeletons used to be the stuff of sciencefiction. Today, the field of medical robotics has stepped out of the fantasy world and into our research labs, hospitals, and clinics. The current aims of medical robotics are to reduce patient recovery time, improve outcomes, and give surgeons the tools they need for greater efficiency and a new level of precision in treatment, planning, and in the operating room.

Trailblazer Turns 20

Minimally invasive robotic-assisted surgery leapt onto the scene in 2000 when the FDA cleared the da Vinci System by Intuit. Back then, robotic-assisted surgery was a novelty. Now, the da Vinci is installed in more than 1,700 hospitals worldwide.

The da Vinci is used for a range of procedures inside the body cavity, from hernia repair, hysterectomy, gallbladder removal, and prostate surgery to cardiacand thoracic surgery. Surgeons trained on the system sit behind a console equipped with 3D high definition vision and wrist instruments. With the surgeon in control of the system at all times as it operates through small incisions, the da Vinci translates the surgeon’s hand and wrist movements, scaling and correcting for inadvertent hand jitters. It enables surgeons to operate with enhanced vision, precision, dexterity, and control.

Medical Robotics Surges Ahead

As Intuit continues to forge its ground-breaking path and evolve its technologies, other companies are pouring research and development into medical robotics and bringing their own systems to market. In general, these systems and applications are specialized for different surgical procedures, from orthopedic and neurosurgery applications to robotic-assisted biopsy and cosmetic procedures such as hair restoration.

Stryker, one of the early leaders in robotic-assisted orthopedic surgery, recently released its new generationMako SmartRobotics platform used by orthopedic surgeons for total and partial knee replacement, and total hip replacement. Not only does the robotic arm assist during surgery, thetechnology offers CT scanning and 3Dimaging for assessment and surgical planning purposes.

Zimmer Biomet’s FDA-cleared ROSA One Brain application is used to assist in minimally invasive neurosurgery procedures, including biopsies, stereo-electro-encephalography (SEEG), and deep brain stimulation that treats patients suffering from Parkinson’s and essential tremors. The ROSA platform also supports total knee replacement. By helping orthopedic surgeons with more accurate implant placement and ease of planning, the Stryker and ROSA systems can help patients experience better outcomes.

Endoscopic procedures represent another frontier in medical robotics. For example, the Flex Robotic System by Medrobotics can “snake” its way to most any place in the body, causing less damage to soft tissue. Often used for colon and head and neck surgery, its flexible, tube-like arm allows the device to move along circuitous routes inside the body to reach places that may have formerly required much more invasive surgery.

Perhaps even more amazing due to their size are capsule robots. Diagnostic “capsule endoscopies” are being performed today via a swallowable, pill-sized robot. The bot travels along your digestive tract gathering data and taking pictures that can be sent directly to a processor for diagnostics and screening. And there’s more. Researchers are working on shape-shifting “origami” bots that open once inside the body then assemble together to repair, for example, holes in the stomach or intestinal lining.

Rehabilitation and physical therapy also benefit big time from medical robotics. The Hand of Hope by Rehab-Robotics Company Limited is a glove-like therapeutic exoskeleton that aids in rehabilitating hand mobility through motor relearning with the goal of helping patients achieve maximum motor recovery. Esko Bionics’ gait training exoskeleton is FDA-cleared for stroke and spinal cord injury rehabilitation. In simple terms, it reminds your body how it’s supposed to move.

Futuristic Medical Nanorobots

Nanomedicine is arguably one of the coolest innovations occurring today. Using the emerging technology ofcell-sized nanobots, scientists and researchers are aiming to clear bacterial infections directly from a patient’s blood and much more. Potential applications abound, including nanobots that roam around inside the body delivering drugs with unprecedented precision, and bots that will hunt down and destroy cancer cells. As nanobot treatments for cancer become available, some patients may no longer need to undergo therapies with bad side effects that affect their entire system.

The Bot Bottom Line

The technologies and concepts mentioned here are just a few of many new medical robotic systems currently available or in research and development. When you compare today’s knowledge and innovations with the macabre and scary-looking medical tools and devices used 100 years ago, our leap forward is almost incomprehensible. Imagine where we’re headed in the next 50 to 100 years! What we’re using now will likely seem as bizarre and antiquated then as the tools and treatment methods of the last century appear to us today.

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