The Future of Medicine

“Robot,” a word originating from the Czech word “robota,” meaning forced labor, has evolved many definitions over the years. Robots range from small machines that perform menial, repetitive tasks to very intelligent machines that have humanlike characteristics, such as those seen in many pop culture references. Today’s robots, while still unintelligent, have taken on a variety of roles in many fields, including industry, research and medicine.

PUMA 560 Robotic Surgical Arm

There are several robot systems that have been used to perform various surgeries over time. The first documented robot-assisted surgery occurred in 1985. A PUMA 560 robotic surgical arm was used to perform a neurosurgical biopsy. In 1987, the first laparoscopic surgery, in which a fiber optic camera is inserted via an incision in order to observe internal organs, was performed using a robotic system. The PUMA system was used again in 1988 to perform a transurethral resection. The AESOP system developed by Computer Motion was the first to beapproved by the FDA for endoscopic surgical procedures. The da Vinci Surgery System became the first FDA approved system for general laparoscopic surgery.

Over the years, minimally invasive surgery has become more and more prevalent, especially with the advent of robotic surgical systems such as the da Vinci system. There are many advantages to having robotic surgeries, including 3D visualization, improved dexterity, smaller incisions and shorter hospital stays. These advantages make previously difficult-to-perform and unfeasible surgeries possible using robotic systems. Enhanced 3D visualization and depth perception, along with increased degrees of freedom, serves to augment the surgeon’s ability to dissect and manipulate anatomical structures at the much smaller scale needed for the surgery.

There are many advantages to having robotic surgeries, including 3D visualization, improved dexterity, smaller incisions and shorter hospital stays.

However, robotic surgery is still a new technology, and, as a result, its efficacy has not yet been established. There have been studies on the feasibility of surgical procedures but no long-term follow up studies have been conducted. However, this can most likely be remedied over time as more long-term studies are conducted. Another disadvantage is the cost; robotic surgery has a high start-up and maintenance cost. It is difficult to predict whether these costs will go up or down, as development of new technologies in the future can either make robotic surgery equipment more affordable or more expensive. There is also a continuous maintenance cost for software upgrades and extra staff to operate and maintain the equipment.

Currently, the applications of robotic surgery are rapidly expanding into many fields in healthcare. In the future, the advantages of robotic surgery will help it continue to expand, and may even lead to removing human contact during surgery. This can prevent intraoperative infections, since patients can be in a clean room while the physicians operate the robotic surgical equipment from farther away. Additionally, there is much more research and speculation into this area; there are labs working on relaying touch sensations from the robots back to the humans, so that the surgeons can still have tactile sensation while performing the surgery. Other researchers are focusing on developing methods and equipment to have sutureless surgeries.

It is even possible that in the future, doctors will simply program the surgery into the robot and then supervise as the robot performs the surgery. Similar to pop culture robots, the advancements to robotic surgery are only limited by imagination and cost.

In addition to the very minimally invasive and sterile surgical procedures, there are many other possibilities for future medicine and surgery. For instance, it may become possible for long distance consultations and guidance between doctors to occur during a surgery. It is even possible that in the future, doctors will simply program the surgery into the robot and then supervise as the robot performs the surgery. Similar to pop culture robots, the advancements to robotic surgery are only limited by imagination and cost.

“History of Robotic Surgery.” Robotic Oncology. N.p., n.d. Web. 27 Jan. 2015. .
Lanfranco, Anthony R., et al. “Robotic Surgery: A Current Perspective.” Annals of Surgery: n. pag. Print.

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About The Author

Aastha is a sophomore at Princeton planning to major in Molecular Biology. She is interested in pursuing certificates in Global Health and Health Policy as well as Quantitative and Computational Biology. She is very interested in healthcare related areas and plans on going to medical school. She likes writing about science news and research going on. She is part of several science and health related publications on campus in various positions. She is involved in research projects in the Princeton science departments for 2 years. She also participated in several science competitions. She is also a volunteer at the UMCPP.