By Dinesh C Sharma
Just like industrial robots that are increasingly becoming common on factory floors, surgical robots are making their presence felt in hospitals. However, prohibitive costs and lack of training facilities are hampering their faster rollout. A trainer surgical robot developed by the Indian Institute of Technology Madras (IIT-M) could help address this gap to some extent.
Surgeon-assisted robotic operations for several medical conditions are being performed at few tertiary care hospitals in the country. The use of robots offers greater precision and helps surgeons minimize loss of blood by restricting incisions to smaller areas. Robotic surgery also allows faster recovery and reduces chances of complications. But not many hospitals can afford robots due to high costs and lack of exposure to robotic technology.
Researchers at IIT Madras have developed a surgical robot for training purposes. Surgical robots available currently in the market work on the principle of master-slave robot operation. The surgeon, sitting away from the patient, controls the master robot and monitors surgery through a vision system, while a save robot holding necessary surgical tool repeats doctor's actions. The training robot developed by scientists is based on a similar configuration. The master and slave arms have 7 degrees of freedom each. The prototype has been shown to a few robotic surgeons and they have appreciated the product, according to the developers.
“For it to be to converted into a full-fledged surgical robot, it needs to undergo a large number of safety tests and regulatory approvals, and clinical trials. This process can take a long time. But the robot developed by us can very well be used as a trainer robot in medical colleges,” said Prof T Asokan of the Department of Engineering Design, who led the research effort under a project funded by the Department of Science and Technology (DST). The current design of the robot is aimed at abdominal surgeries but may be extended to other surgeries. IITM team collaborated with urologists from PSG Medical college, Coimbatore, and an industrial partner.
It is estimated that the trainer robot may cost between Rs 60 lakh to Rs 70 lakh. “The cost of a commercial robot is around Rs 12 crores. To get such a costly robot for training purposes would be impossible for medical colleges. An affordable trainer robot will help students to get trained on this futuristic technology,” added Asokan.
Robotic surgeons, however, feel that much work needs to be done for any developmental robot to be used on a large scale. “Just as airliners need skilled pilots, surgical robots are best operated by expert surgeons specifically trained in their nuances. Surgical simulation, undoubtedly, is going to play a key part in getting the next generation of surgeons up to speed in performing next gen surgery,” commented Dr Gagan Gautam, head of urologic oncology and robotic surgery at Max Institute of Cancer Care, New Delhi.
India Science Wire