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Robotics Medicine Biotech Science

Robotic Surgery On a Beating Heart 54

An anonymous reader writes "Serious heart surgery usually involves stopping the organ and keeping the patient alive with a cardiopulmonary bypass machine. But this risks brain damage and requires a long recuperation. Scientists at Harvard University and Children's Hospital Boston have now developed a device that lets surgeons operate on a beating heart with a steady hand. The 'robotic' device uses 3-D ultrasound images to predict and compensate for the motion of the heart so that the surgeon can work on a faulty valve as it moves. The approach should improve recovery times and give a surgeon instant feedback on the success of the procedure, the researchers say. Here's a (slightly gory) video of the device in action."
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Robotic Surgery On a Beating Heart

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  • NOW they tell me! (Score:5, Informative)

    by dazedNconfuzed ( 154242 ) on Tuesday October 21, 2008 @05:33PM (#25460365)

    I had valve replacement surgery two months ago. While everything went extremely well (thank you Emory hospital), my wife would have appreciated not hearing the words "it's going well, they're stopping his heart now...".

    • Re:NOW they tell me! (Score:5, Interesting)

      by theaveng ( 1243528 ) on Wednesday October 22, 2008 @07:08AM (#25466141)

      Pretty soon they'll just use robots (nanites) and won't need a surgeon at all, except to act as a kind of "general" giving orders to the tiny machines.

      • Pretty soon they'll just use robots (nanites) and won't need a surgeon at all, except to act as a kind of "general" giving orders to the tiny machines.

        A general? As in a Surgeon General?!?!? Wow...I need to leave work already...

      • "...In either case, most of the actual surgery will be done by small robots. And as you go forth today remember always your duty is clear: To build and maintain those robots."

  • Poe (Score:4, Interesting)

    by dasheiff ( 261577 ) on Tuesday October 21, 2008 @05:34PM (#25460381)

    Edgar Allan Poe would be proud.

    • Re: (Score:1, Funny)

      by Anonymous Coward
      Only if you could combine the machine and the heart with one of these [thinkgeek.com]
  • by WarJolt ( 990309 ) on Tuesday October 21, 2008 @05:36PM (#25460421)

    The software can predict where heart tissue will be approximately 70 to 100 milliseconds in the future, so the position of the tip of the handheld surgical tool can be adjusted accordingly.

    In surgery there is always a potential for something to go wrong. Can the software compensate for cardiac arrhythmias which are inherently unpredictable?

    Surgeons typically respond better than machines to unpredicted circumstances.

    • ...Surgeons typically respond better than machines to unpredicted circumstances.

      True, and a good point.

      I wonder what the probability is of an event occurring which would require the flexible, though less precise, ability of the Surgeon versus the increased success afforded by the inflexible, but precise, machines.

      in other words, statistically speaking, does the risk of unpredictable events outweigh the benefit of increased quality of operation.

      • by Ethanol-fueled ( 1125189 ) on Tuesday October 21, 2008 @05:57PM (#25460709) Homepage Journal
        To add to your point, it's not just the increased precision, it's also about not having to rip other stuff open which increases the risk of complication.

        Operations which required 6-inch incisions(think hernias and appendectomies) can be done with half-inch incisions thanks to technology. I'd gladly be touched by a robot as long as it left less of a mess on the way out. Plus, there's less of a risk of the doc leaving instruments inside when he sews you up. It happens, so don't laugh :)
      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by WarJolt ( 990309 )

        Though machines are more precise, we would need someone to blame if something went wrong. How could you tell someone that your son, daughter or husband would of lived if it was a surgeons hands instead of a machine.
        Airplanes can fly and land more precisely always on autopilot. All the human carrying ones still have pilots behind on-board because we still need someone to blame in case it crashes. We need a soul in control of the machine that has control over our lives. It's just too freaky not to. It may mak

        • Airplanes can fly and land more precisely always on autopilot.

          I'm curious, do you have any documentation that planes can land safely on autopilot? All the praise I've heard of autopilots is that they take a great load off the pilot's shoulders during flight, but a skilled human pilot is still vital in take-off and landing.

          • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

            by AngryUndead ( 733008 )
            http://www.airliners.net/aviation-forums/general_aviation/read.main/1882971/ [airliners.net]

            Basically, airplanes can land just fine by themselves. It is vital that they are able to do so in no visibility situations.
          • I would think that starts and landings are *the* situations where we would benefit the most from auto-pilot. Ofcourse there should always be an "override" button for when shit really hits the fan.

            But in the general case (i.e. landings in heavy weather and with zero sight) a computer should be able to compensate much faster and more accurately than a human. There are no real decisions to make in those situations, it's all about reaction time. Furthermore a computer can "see" and "feel" much better than a hum

          • by WarJolt ( 990309 )

            Even the space shuttle, essentially a flying brick, can land by itself. It's never been tested in the real world because it's tradition to turn it off on final approach. I would assume that pilots and surgeons can find a little bit of common ground. Thats why I like the analogy. Us pilots think we can do better than machines.

      • I wonder what the probability is of an event occurring which would require the flexible, though less precise, ability of the Surgeon versus the increased success afforded by the inflexible, but precise, machines.

        It sounds to me like in this situation, the machine is more flexible than the surgeon.

    • by Gat0r30y ( 957941 ) on Tuesday October 21, 2008 @05:52PM (#25460647) Homepage Journal
      It would also seem to me that an arrhythmia would be much more likely to occur during such a procedure, since the heart (and generally the whole body) of the patient is under a significantly higher amount of stress during open heart surgery. But I guess the real answer would lie in the control system designed to predict the future behavior of the organ. Does it use a regular heartbeat to predict future behavior? Or, much more likely in my view, does the software use the ultrasound to predict future behavior independent of any particular "regular" heartbeat? I can say that if I were designing such a control system I would not want a set "regular" heartbeat as an expectation, I would much rather use the ultrasound to feed forward information from each chamber independently, so that even if there were an arrhythmia the compensation would not be directly effected.
      • by The Gaytriot ( 1254048 ) on Tuesday October 21, 2008 @06:04PM (#25460789) Journal

        I'd say that's the point of the ultrasound. Otherwise, if the robot simply attempted to predict the position of the heart by it's rhythm alone there would be serious issues.

        Using the ultrasound, which updates the position to a computer (probably updating around 4-5 MHz), means that the robot can compensate for the position close enough to real time that it can avoid mistakes (there is still the tiny delay).

        Any irregularities due to Arrhythmia should not be an issue, the heart will probably not change beating faster than the computer and robot can compensate.

    • by Yvanhoe ( 564877 )
      From what I read, see, infer, I doubt that the prediction happens at the scale of a heartbeat. I think it is more something like a prediction with a 1 ms measure step. A sequence of position, a simple physical system to tune an extrapolation filter should be enough to anticipate any kind of abnormal behavior of the heart. The model may be accurate at 70/100 ms but obviously the tool in the video is moving faster than that. The interest of the machine is not to predict where the tissue will be in 100 ms but
    • In the realm of piloting aircraft, the likelihood of pilot failure is far greater than the likelihood of an unforeseen circumstance that the machine can't recover from. (People are still leary of flying without a pilot though which is why you don't see computer-piloted passenger jets, despite the fact that they are less likely to crash.)

      I would expect that this machine will only be allowed to be used when it reliability is at a similar level.

      • I've never understood this - people are perfectly happy to accept "human error" or "mechanical failure" as inevitable, but the moment there's a remote chance of a computer screwup they're terrified, even if it's far less likely to happen than either of the others.

        Maybe it's because in the case of human error, the human who made the error probably died in the crash...
    • by Trifthen ( 40989 ) on Tuesday October 21, 2008 @08:36PM (#25462443) Homepage

      I was wondering about that myself. My open-heart surgery in 1984 obviously used the old method of hypothermia to stop the heart, and as expected, required several hours to install a dacron patch to close a ventricular septal defect, close an atrial septal defect, widen my pulmonary artery, and surgically separate my tricuspid and mitral valves... and that was just what they could fix back then. That's a ton of crap, and I have to wonder how effectively a robot could work on a beating heart while having it open and basically re-arranging the entire inside.

      Then again, this seems obviously aimed at things like bypass surgery. I still have to wonder how invasive this technology can get before it gets too risky.

    • by Trip6 ( 1184883 )
    • by cgenman ( 325138 )

      Can the software compensate for cardiac arrhythmias which are inherently unpredictable?

      If it is going on the current motion of the heart, depending on the sampling rate it should be able to compensate for "unexpected" motions far better than any human doctor would. Most humans have a 200 ms response time anyway, which sounds significantly higher than this machine's.

      A parallel would be Lasik: the laser compensates for your eye position every 100th of a second. I've seen studies where a stand-in eye glanced

  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday October 21, 2008 @05:57PM (#25460711)


  • Otherwise I would have had NO idea what this thing does!! Am I the only one that got 2 seconds of what looks like a hypodermic and a back massager?
    • Re: (Score:1, Troll)

      by sexconker ( 1179573 )

      That's what I got, but it was 4 seconds.

    • Re: (Score:1, Funny)

      by Anonymous Coward

      it thought the video was just the new id logo, but i had no idea of how it got there

  • by angrytuna ( 599871 ) on Tuesday October 21, 2008 @06:10PM (#25460843)

    I was able to sit in on an open heart surgery at one point in my life. After the surgeon cracked the chest open, he inserted a surgical glove full of (I think) normal saline, tied off at the wrist. Called it a 'helping hand'. The heart continued to beat merrily away on top of it, and they used a device called an octopus [medgadget.com] to hold the pertinent section of the heart still.

    To date, remains one of the coolest things I have ever seen.

    • I don't get the purpose of the hand...was it so that the beating heart wouldn't move vertically but would instead push on the glove which would expand horizontally?
  • I for one welcome the day when our robotic overloards will be able to heal us after working and or beating us with in an inch of our life! Although I'm sure with robitic precision they can get that inch down to at least with in 1cm of a life.
  • Robot vs. Reboot (Score:3, Interesting)

    by thewiz ( 24994 ) on Tuesday October 21, 2008 @09:41PM (#25463053)

    I, for one, would be happy to have a robot operate on me if I ever have a fourth open-heart surgery. The three surgeries I've had required that I be attached to a cardiopulmonary bypass machine, have my heart stopped by electric shock, sternum cut and rib cage spread open, and be restarted by another electric shock when they were done.

    Trust me, hot-swap is much better than a cold reboot!

  • Modern machine control, sensors, & servos are so advanced, it creates sights that look like they shouldn't be possible. Eventually surgery on marathon runners during a marathon will look as normal as segways. Too bad there aren't any jobs in machine control.

Never buy what you do not want because it is cheap; it will be dear to you. -- Thomas Jefferson