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Operation Robots are Becoming Smaller, More Flexible and Safer

Robotic surgery

Robotic surgery may have gained a permanent place in health care, many surgical procedures are still very invasive and burdensome for the patient. By using flexible and robot-controlled needles, a robot can reach hard-to-reach places without damaging healthy tissue along the way
One step further, and via such a needle, micro robots can be delivered that can, for example, take a biopsy. That is similar to the ' swallow the doctor ' vision of the future of Richard Feynman and Andrew Hibbs from the 1960s, but the use of nanobots in healthcare is closer than we think. Prof. Sarthak Misra stated this in his inaugural address as professor of Surgical Robotics at the University of Twente, 

Operating robots such as the Da Vinci have been on the rise for some time. They help the surgeon with precision procedures such as prostate surgery or the removal of intestinal tumors. But despite all the progress, most operations remain stressful and traumatic for the patient, Misra says

. The next step in robotic surgery, he says, is about snake-like robots and flexible needles that can reach hard-to-reach places in the body for a precision operation. “We are at the point where we can start pre-clinical trials with our needle control systems. These are really exciting times in the lab ”.


These flexible instruments can move around sensitive and healthy tissue on their way to the affected area in the body. Should a surgeon have to control this needle, this requires the utmost of hand-eye coordination. Misra is therefore developing a robot control system in its group based on a pre-operative plan, a navigation system for the procedure.

 These robotic systems can also be used in a CT or MRI scanner. His 'continuum robots' are also promising , which consist of flexible, magnetically controlled elements and bend continuously. They move in a natural way with, for example, the beating of the heart. Misra's group, for example, has already demonstrated a flexible catheter that can be controlled with ultrasound and can be used to replace a heart valve.


Misra goes one step further: "What I really hope is that we get microrobots for personalized and highly targeted diagnosis and therapy." Already in the science fiction movie 'Fantastic Voyage' from 1966 it was about a submarine that moved through the body, and Andrew Hibbs - student of Richard Feynman - had the vision of 'swallow a doctor' about the same time.

We are not that far away from this at all, Misra states. He was already known by 'magnetosperm': magnetically controlled robots that swim like a sperm. His group also developed a microgripper, a kind of micro-level sea star that can be used to take biopsies. "We will soon be able to reach places that are difficult to reach deep within the human body by injecting micro- and nanobots to perform highly personalized interventions."

Prof.dr. Sarthak Misra is professor of Surgical Robotics at the University of Twente, department of Engineering Technology. He is also affiliated with the University Medical Center Groningen (UMCG).

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