Minimally invasive surgery carries less risk to patients than conventional procedures, and reduces recovery times.
But the cost of the laparoscopic equipment needed to carry out such procedures puts them out of reach of many hospitals in the developing world, particularly those in rural areas.
Now a concept system the size of a small suitcase could showcase the future of surgery in countries such as India and China.
The Ekano laparoscopic surgery system, developed by product design company Cambridge Consultants, could be used by surgeons in developing countries to perform operations via small incisions in the abdomen.
Conventional laparoscopy equipment can cost more than £100,000, while the Ekano system would cost around a quarter of the price, according to Rahul Sathe, head of surgical innovation for emerging markets at Cambridge Consultants.
The system creates its own WiFi hotspot that allows the surgical team to upload pre-operative images to help them plan the procedure, or to share data wirelessly with colleagues.
The portable system can be mounted on an IV pole in the operating theatre, to limit the amount of space it takes up.
Instead of using expensive three-chip camera sensors, the system uses a significantly cheaper single-chip sensor equipped with optical filtering and image processing, to allow it to enhance the pictures produced to ensure they are of comparable quality.
“In interviewing surgeons we found that in most basic procedures the key need was to visualise anatomy clearly, so that the surgeon can then make his or her own decision about what to do,” said Sathe. “So as long as they can see tissue in the right depth of field, with the right light, they can then manipulate tissue, dissect it or perform a procedure.”
The large and expensive xenon light sources typically used in theatres in the developed world, which require frequent maintenance, are also replaced with a compact LED array.
The system can be used with interchangeable tool tips, to allow the surgeon to use it for different types of procedures, Sathe said. “In emerging markets there is huge emphasis on total cost of ownership, so surgeons and hospitals prefer not to use disposable devices, but rather to pay more for a reusable device and be able to use it over multiple cases,” he said.
A team of product designers and engineers from the company visited hospitals in India to develop an understanding of the needs of surgeons in developing countries.