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Robots are even starting to replace surgeons

© JAFAR AHMED/Unsplash

This system, developed by a team from Johns Hopkins University, is the ASTR (Autonomous System for Tumor Resection). Even though advances in medicine now allow miracles in surgery, major challenges still remain. In particular that of the removal of cancerous tumors in quite delicate areas, such as the head or neck. Indeed, the act of resection (removal of pathological tissue or an organ) in certain cases requires extreme precision.

It is necessary to eliminate enough cancerous tissue while preserving enough healthy tissue. A complex task, which certain human components complicate even more, such as fatigue or lack of visibility. Robots are great allies for this kind of task (like the one Neuralink uses). ASTR is also completely autonomous, which further reduces the margin for error.

A surgical precision

This quest for precision is a crucial importance, as Alex Krieger, assistant professor of mechanical engineering at Johns Hopkins University, points out. “ Performing a resection while ensuring precise margins is a significant challenge […] Many of these Surgeries rely largely on hope and even some guesswork. Many surgeons experience difficulty in this regard. We wanted to make these procedures more precise » he explains.

As standard, the target margin is approximately 5 mm, or a piece of fabric to be removed the size of a pencil eraser. This is the minimum to guarantee an effective resection. However, many surgeons point out that guaranteeing this precision is, in certain cases, very complex. « The surgeons bring a small ruler to measure the 5 mm, then mark the edges on the sides. But determining the exact depth to reach is what's so difficult » continues Krieger.

The operation of the ASTR

In this context, the& #8217;ASTR presents itself as a very promising solution. Krieger and his team actually adapted an already existing robotic system, the STAR (Smart Tissue Autonomous Robot).

Two years ago, he achieved a feat by achieving the first fully autonomous laparoscopic surgery. A surgical technique based on the insertion of cameras and small instruments into the abdomen, avoiding surgeons having to make large openings to operate.

L’ASTR works on the same principle. It operates using two robotic arms guided by direct vision. Tested on pig tongue tissue, it was programmed to precisely remove a tumor while respecting this margin. Each time, l’ASTR successfully completed the resection by removing exactly 5 mm of tissue. All without any human supervision. A success which underlines the immense potential that these robots represent for the future of surgery.

The future of surgery& ;nbsp;?

This advance broadens the horizon for the future of robotic surgery. The success of ASTR in its tongue test (an operation called partial glossectomy) perfectly illustrates the potential usefulness of this type of technology applied to a wider range wide of surgical resections. For Krieger, the next step is to adapt ASTR to an organ that is also difficult to access: the kidney.

The specialist plans to couple ASTR with state-of-the-art imaging techniquesin order to further increase its precision. For the treatment of tumors, this would be a real revolution and would allow less invasive surgical procedures. Krieger is quite confident about the relevance of this type of system in modern surgery. “ We already use robots a lot in clinical practice, so it’s not a major paradigm shift ” he explains.

In the field of oncological surgery, ASTR thus proves to be a big step forward. If the first attempts to use robots in surgery date back to the 1980s, it was from the 2000s that surgical robotic systems began to be widely adopted. Progress has been very rapid, and there is no doubt that fully autonomous robots will gradually become the norm in the coming decades. At the same time, the staggering advances in artificial intelligence will certainly catalyze this progress.

  • Researchers from Johns Hopkins University have developed an autonomous robot surgeon.
  • Called ASTR, it is capable of performing tumor resections with unequaled precision.
  • Still in the testing phase, its creators already imagine it will tackle other sensitive operations.

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Teilor Stone

By Teilor Stone

Teilor Stone has been a reporter on the news desk since 2013. Before that she wrote about young adolescence and family dynamics for Styles and was the legal affairs correspondent for the Metro desk. Before joining Thesaxon , Teilor Stone worked as a staff writer at the Village Voice and a freelancer for Newsday, The Wall Street Journal, GQ and Mirabella. To get in touch, contact me through my teilor@nizhtimes.com 1-800-268-7116