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Now, robots do surgeries without doctors

Now, robots do surgeries without doctors

Washington: A physician-guided robot carrying out surgeries on patients is not new, but scientists have developed a next generation robot that could eliminate a surprising element from that scenario, the doctor.

Feasibility studies conducted by Duke University bioengineers have demonstrated that a robot -- without any human assistance -- can locate a man-made, or phantom, lesion in simulated human organs. It can also guide a device to the lesion and take multiple samples during a single session, according to the researchers who believe as the technology is further developed autonomous robots could soon perform many more simple surgical tasks.

"Earlier this year we demonstrated that a robot directed by artificial intelligence can on its own locate simulated calcifications and cysts in simulated breast tissue with high repeatability and accuracy," said Kaicheng Liang, a Duke scientists and a member of the research team. "Now we have shown that the robot can sample up to eight different spots in simulated human prostate tissue."

The latest research has appeared in the journal Ultrasonic Imaging, while the previous Duke study was published in the journal Ultrasound in Medicine and Biology in January. According to the university, in both experiments scientists used whole turkey breasts as their tissues closely resemble that of humans in texture and density, and appear similar when scanned by ultrasound.

For their research, the Duke team combined a souped-up version of an existing robot arm with an ultrasound system of its own design. The ultrasound serves as the robot's "eyes" by collecting data from its scan and locating its target.

The robot, controlled by an artificial intelligence programme, has a mechanical "hand" that can manipulate the same biopsy plunger device that physicians use to reach a lesion and take samples. In the latest series of experiments, the robot guided the plunger to eight different locations on the simulated prostate tissue in 93 per cent of its attempts
This is important because multiple samples can also determine the extent of any lesion, said Stephen Smith, the director of the Duke University Ultrasound Transducer Group.

Smith believes that routine medical procedures, such as biopsies in other tissues in the body, will be performed in the future with minimal human guidance, and at greater convenience and less cost to patients. An important challenge to be overcome is the speed of data acquisition and processing, but the scientists are confident that faster processors and better algorithms will address that issue.

To be clinically useful, all of the robot's actions would need to be in real time, the researchers said. "One of the beauties of this system is that all of the hardware components are already on the market," Smith said.

"We believe that this is the first step in showing that with some modifications, systems like this can be built without having to develop a new technology from scratch." "We are now testing the robot on a human mannequin seated at the examining table whose breast is constrained in a stiff bra cup... Our next step is to move to an excised human breast," Smith added.


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