Robot Lends Hand to Heart Surgery

Robot Lends Hand to Heart Surgery

Reported December 15, 2009

(Ivanhoe Newswire) — The day when computers actually start performing surgery may soon be upon us.

A French team has developed a computerized 3D model that allows surgeons to use robotics to operate on a beating heart. The robotic technology predicts the movement of the heart as it beats, enabling the surgical tools to move in concert with each beat. It means a surgeon can perform a procedure as if the heart were stationary.

This development could be especially important for the millions of patients who require less invasive surgical heart procedures, but for whom stopping the heart causes unnecessary risk.

Rogério Richa, Philippe Poignet and Chao Liu from France’s Montpellier Laboratory of Informatics, Robotics, and Microelectronics developed a three-dimensional computerized model that tracks the motion of the heart’s surface as it beats. The model also accounts for the movement of the patient’s chest wall during breathing. Known as the “thin-plate spline deformable model,” this computerized approach allows a robotic arm to continually adjust to heart and chest movements during surgery.



The effective isolation of the physical movements of the heart and lungs during surgery is made more difficult by the heart’s irregular shape and its tendency to expand outward in all directions as it beats. The heart’s irregular surface also makes it more difficult to use visual tracking to accurately pinpoint movement.

The new approach relies on a mathematical representation of the heart’s surface as it moves in three dimensions. Over the last 10 years, robotic arms have become essential in many surgical procedures, including microsurgery and operations that require extremely delicate movements. However, these machines prevent the surgeons from using their sense of touch and coordination to adjust for rapidly changing environments. This new computer-generated model makes it possible for the surgeon to focus on suturing or cutting without having to adjust for the moving surface. This technique has many potential applications, including heart surgery, coronary bypass and many kinds of brain surgery.

To date, patients have gone without some of these procedures because the risk of surgery outweighed the benefits. This new model will allow surgeons to perform less invasive procedures that are not “life-or-death,” but which do require a high level of precision.

SOURCE: International Journal of Robotics Research, December 11, 2009