Volume 96, Issue 65
Friday, January 24, 2003

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Robot better than Doogie Howser?

By Paolo Zinatelli
Gazette Staff

Gazette file photo
Voltron has no fear of Western's three-armed robot.

A new three-armed robot at the London Health Sciences Centre – the first of its kind in Canada – is helping surgeons to improve their performance in the operating room.

"It was purchased by [the Canadian Surgical Technologies and Advanced Robotics] and the [LHSC] in 1999," said Patrick Luke, a urologist at LHSC.

"CSTAR supports the robotic surgery at [LHSC]," said Reiza Rayman, director of research for CSTAR. "[We are] there to support new research."

A similar robot was used to do a coronary artery bypass a few years ago, Luke said. Over the last year and half, they began to see if it could be used in abdominal operations, Luke said.

"The [robot] has extra wrists, so you have better 3D play," he said.

Luke used the robot for the first time during surgery on Jan. 6, to perform an inter-abdominal procedure to correct a blockage in the drainage system of a patient's kidney, he explained.

"[It's] perfect for this robot to work in this region, because you can scale up or scale down your movements," Luke said. In addition, the robot helps eliminate hand tremors, because the robot's arms have wrists to help increase dexterity when suturing, he said.

Three years ago, the operation would have required a 10 centimetre gash to fix a two millimetre region, Luke explained.

"The robot allows for repairs with small incisions," Rayman said, adding it enhances a surgeon's manual dexterity.

"[I'm] not at the patient's side when we do this. I'm at a console," Luke explained.

The robot creates a surgical environment in which there are far less errors, he said, adding the robot is the first of its kind in Canada and can also be used for cardiac, lung, thoracic and neo-natal surgeries

"It's really a little early to say [if there are benefits]," said Marlene Shoucair, national communications director for the Kidney Foundation of Canada, adding there is no track record of proven success because [the technology] is so new.

"We [have now] applied the line-suturing technique from the chest to the abdomen," Luke explained.

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