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New Robotic Arm Has Softer Surgical Touch

Device helps find tumors during minimally invasive surgery, researchers say

MONDAY, Aug. 31 (HealthDay News) -- A robotic surgical arm that can gently "feel" for cancerous tumors during minimally invasive surgery has been developed by Canadian scientists.

The device, invented at the University of Western Ontario and at Canadian Surgical Technologies and Advanced Robotics, will help surgeons better isolate tumors from softer surrounding tissue and, it is hoped, improve cancer survival rates, according to the study published in the September issue of the International Journal of Robotics Research.

During an operation, surgeons often use their hands to palpate (or gently feel) for tumors, which tend to have a different texture from healthy tissue and can shift in the body after a CT scan and other pre-surgical imaging tests. But this is a tricky maneuver during minimally invasive surgery, where the incision is small and the surgeon may not be able to put his or her fingers inside the body, the study authors explain in a news release from the journal's publisher.

The new arm is small enough to enter the incision and apply consistent pressure as it palpates for any irregularities. The researchers expect the technique to improve surgical accuracy, especially in tumors that shift a lot, such as lung cancers.

The researchers have not yet tested the device in people, but they are pleased with the results in animal studies. They plan to add a flexible rotating head, a remote center of motion and better interface to make the arm easier to use, according to the news release.

Although relatively new, robot-assisted surgery is a growing field. Surgical robots often operate with greater accuracy and cause less blood loss than conventional methods. Also, surgeons can remotely control the devices miles away from the actual surgery, opening up the possibility of performing complicated surgeries far from major medical centers.

More information

The U.S. National Institutes of Health has more on robotic surgery.

-- Peter West

SOURCE: International Journal of Robotics Research, news release, Aug. 21, 2009

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