Deakin builds robotic surgical system with sense of touch

13 October 2016

A Deakin University innovation will give surgeons the sense of touch while they drive a robot to conduct keyhole surgery via a computer.

The HeroSurg robot is a major breakthrough to current technology, which now limits robotic surgery to the sense of sight, and means laparoscopic, or keyhole/micro surgery, will be safer and more accurate than ever before by reducing trauma and lowering risk of blood loss and infection.

The innovation, the brainchild of Deakin’s Institute for Intelligent Systems Research and Innovation (IISRI) in collaboration with Harvard University and Deakin’s School of Medicine, was unveiled today at the Australasian Simulation Congress, hosted by Simulation Australasia, at the Melbourne Convention Centre.

HeroSurg was developed by engineers from Deakin and Harvard, along with Professor Suren Krishnan, who in 2008 became the first Australian surgeon to use the current available da Vinci robotic surgical system for ear, nose and throat procedures.

Professor Krishnan, from the Royal Adelaide Hospital and an Honorary Professor at IISRI, said HeroSurg’s addition of the sense of touch, provided through technology known as haptic feedback, would lead to better patient outcomes.

“The major drawback of the current system is the lack of tactile feedback,” Professor Krishnan said.

“Tactile feedback allows a surgeon to differentiate between tissues and to ‘feel’ delicate tissues weakened by infection or inflammation and dissect them more carefully. Tactile feedback will allow us to use finer and more delicate sutures in microsurgery.”

Professor Krishnan said the haptics technology would also improve the ability to distinguish between tissues involved with cancer from normal tissue.

The project’s lead researcher and haptics expert, Dr Mohsen Moradi Dalvand, who recently spent two years at Harvard University as a visiting scholar, said the haptic feedback improved safety and allowed specific manoeuvres and diagnoses to be performed with greater confidence.

“HeroSurg’s unique features which allow it to overcome many of the limitations of existing robotic laparoscopic systems, include collision avoidance capability, modularity and automatic patient/bed adjustment,” Dr Dalvand said.

“The automatic collision avoidance enables surgeons to operate with peace of mind and confidence that there will be no collision with instruments, the robot’s arms, or the laparoscope with the patient.”

Other unique HeroSurg features include high-resolution 3D images, an increased range of motion for the surgeon, and a more ergonomic workstation console.

“HeroSurg will assist surgeons to perform demanding surgical procedures with comfort, accuracy and safety by providing real-time collision avoidance for medical instruments, and stereo-endoscopic vision,” Dr Dalvand said.

He added that the extra real-time 3D virtual HeroSurg would help the surgeon identify the position relationship of the instruments and laparoscope.

IISRI Director Professor Saeid Nahavandi said HeroSurg could be used remotely, with the surgeon potentially thousands of kilometres away from the actual theatre.

“In the not-too-distant future, many patients may be thanking HeroSurg for saving their lives,” Professor Nahavandi said.

The world-leading technology was created in the laboratory at Deakin’s Waurn Ponds campus in Geelong, also collaborating with experts from the University’s School of Medicine, who and are looking forward to working with hospitals, medical centres and potential manufacturers to bring the technology into the health system over the next few years.

After laboratory testing in partnership with medical experts, the project is ready for human trials.

It builds on recent work from IISRI that has enabled ultrasounds to be completed by medical professionals by remote, also using haptics technology.

Minimally invasive robotic surgery has become popular with surgeons, patients and insurance companies. Much smaller incisions result in reduced pain and risk of infection, better post-operative immune function, shorter hospital stays and quicker recovery.

Simulation Australasia CEO John Stewart said: “This is incredible innovation out of our simulation community and will change the way medicine is done forever.

"The best surgeons will be able to operate on patients on the other side of the world and the advancements in haptic technology mean they're no longer just relying on sight."

HeroSurg project collaborators included IISRI Director Professor Saeid Nahavandi, Harvard University Harvard Biorobotics Laboratory Professor Robert Howe, Professor Suren Krishnan and Deakin School of Medicine Associate Professor Glenn Guest.

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Media release Institute for Intelligent Systems Research and Innovation (IISRI)

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