‘Supermicrosurgery’ robot aces first human trials

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A new robot can perform supermicrosurgery just as effectively as human surgeons.
Image: MicroSure

Robots are steadily becoming a common finding in the operating room. While they have helped save countless lives, they simply aren’t equipped to handle certain types of procedures. With that being said, neither are human surgeons.

Some procedures, like reconnecting blood vessels that are just 0.3 millimeters in diameter are a seemingly impossible task for all but the most talented operators. Yet, with cutting edge ‘supermicrosurgery’ robots, anything is possible. These ultra-sophisticated machines are able to perform the task with relative ease. Now, one such bot has completed its first human trial with flying colors. The success may set the precedent for how some of the world’s tiniest surgeries are performed.

Pushing the Limits of Size

The robot responsible for passing the human trials goes by the name MUSA. It is a system designed to exclusively perform reconstructive supermicrosurgery. This includes repairing and reconnecting tiny vessels that range in diameter from 0.3 to 0.8 mm. The procedure plays a role in everything from lymphedema treatment to soft tissue reconstruction.

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MUSA’s recent trial consisted of breast cancer patients diagnosed with lymphedema related to their condition. For those unfamiliar, lymphedema is a painful condition where the arms or legs swell to massive sizes after lymph nodes are removed or damaged, often during a tumor removal surgery.

Although it’s possible to perform some supermicrosurgeries by hand, the authors of the MUSA study say that “performance is limited by precision and dexterity of the human hands.”

That’s where the robotic approach comes in. MicroSure, a Netherlands-based company designed MUSA with stability in mind. Thanks to complex accompanying software, it’s able to filter out vibrations and tremors from the hands of the surgeon at the controls. It also scales down their movements to a fraction of their normal size.

MUSA’s multiple arms are capable of holding microsurgical instruments and microscopes that give physicians an up-close view of the operating field.

‘Promising Results for the Future’

The use of MUSA in the operating room is a first for the field of supermicrosurgery. However, the system excelled in almost every way.

Evaluators found that MUSA was able to repair vessels with the same degree of quality (if not better) than surgeons who did so manually. The only downside is that robot-assisted surgeries lasted slightly longer than those who didn’t use MUSA. The study’s authors note that part of this is due to the steep learning curve of the system. They also say that the discrepancy shrunk as the surgeons got more comfortable using the robot.

Most importantly, no adverse outcomes resulted from the study. Thanks to that, the authors conclude that the success of MUSA indicates “promising results for the future of reconstructive supermicrosurgery.”

Today’s surgeons are incredibly skilled. However, robots continue to push the boundaries of what is possible. When certain systems are able to improve patient outcomes and give surgeons tools to succeed, they demonstrate what can happen at the intersection of medicine and technology. Stay tuned to The Burn-In for the latest insights on how tech is impacting the healthcare world and bettering the lives of individuals all over.

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