Robot carries out first ever laparoscopic procedure without human assistance

In a breakthrough development, a robot carried out laparoscopic surgery on the soft tissue of a pig without assistance from a human hand. This is a significant step in robotics toward fully automated surgical procedures on humans.

The Smart Tissue Autonomous Robot (STAR) designed by a team of researchers at Johns Hopkins University is described in Science Robotics.

The findings demonstrate that one of the most detailed and fragile tasks in surgery of reconnection of two ends of an intestine can be automated. This was established with carrying out the procedure on four animals that produced significantly better results than obtained if humans performed the same procedure.

The robot displayed excellent results for intestinal anastomosis, wherein the procedure requires a high level of repetitive motion and accuracy. Meanwhile, connecting both ends of an intestine is unarguably the most challenging part in gastrointestinal procedure that requires surgeon to stitch with consistency and high accuracy.

The slightest imbalance of the hand or misplaced stitch can result into leak that could lead to disastrous complications for patients.

The creation of STAR is a joint effort of collaborators at Children’s National Hospital, Washington D.C., a professor of electrical and computer engineering at John Hopkins, along with an associate of mechanical engineering at Whiting School of Engineering, John Hopkins who led the research.

The current version of the robot is an advancement to a 2016 model that fixed the intestines of a pig accurately, but required large incision to access the intestine and required more human assistance.

Enhance autonomy and improved surgical precision, along with specialized suturing tools and state-of-the-art imaging systems for more precise visualization of surgical fields are the new features the team equipped STAR with.