Domo Arigato

By ERIN BALDASSARI  |  May 2, 2011

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mMD


THE BOT
| Robopsy

THE INDUSTRY | Healthcare delivery

THE PROBLEM | Inserting needles and probes can require inhuman precision

THE SOLUTION | A device to guide the surgeon's hands

LEARN MORE | robopsy.com

What started as a class project for MIT students Conor Walsh and Nevan Hanumara may soon be a leading model in how hospitals incorporate robots into healthcare. In stark contrast to the da Vinci surgical robot, a massive and complex machine costing nearly $2 million, Robopsy is small, lightweight, partially disposable, and relatively cheap. And unlike da Vinci, which allows doctors to conduct complex surgeries, Robopsy performs just one task: the precise manipulation and insertion of a needle or probe.

"We didn't want to replace the doctor in this procedure," Walsh says. "But we sat in on a number of biopsies, watching how doctors work and tried to figure out what they were already doing well and where they could use help." The problem with the way biopsies are performed today, Walsh says, isn't in identifying where the needle needs to go — it's getting it there. Surgeons performing lung biopsies, for example, must aim their needles for a precise location, within a millimeter or less, based on a CAT scan. Typically, it takes a surgeon ten tries before nailing it.

"We thought, 'How about we design a robot on the scale of a human hand, that does the manipulation a human hand does, but allows the doctor to extend into the imaging board while the patient is in there?'" Walsh says.

Doctors specify where they want the needle to go, and Robopsy calculates the angle of the needle to precisely target the tissue area in question. Hospitals hold onto the more expensive brains of the system, while disposing of the radiolucent plastic hoops, base and carriage. Hanumara hopes it will prove cost effective.

"Healthcare providers are just as conscious of healthcare costs as patients," Hanumara says. "So since the beginning, we've been keenly aware that if it's too expensive, the device won't be implemented." So far, there is some commercial interest in Robopsy, though it will have to pass FDA approval first. In the meantime, Walsh says they're looking into other procedures where similar solutions are needed. The Robopsy is just as useful for any kind of injection or needle placement where precision is needed, he says, as well as a type of cancer treatment that delivers intense heat directly to tumors through a probe.

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