Micro-robotics system could simplify abdominal surgeries

EU-funded researchers are developing micro-robotics and micro-system technologies to make abdominal surgeries less complicated, invasive and costly.

The team of researchers on the Araknes project (Array of Robots Augmenting the KiNematics and Endoluminal Surgery) is responsible for developing the technology, which can be used to operate on a wide range of conditions requiring abdominal surgery.

‘The idea is to set up a new generation of surgical robots that are less invasive and less bulky than current robots,’ said Prof Arianna Menciassi of the BioRobotics Institute at Scuola Superiore Sant’Anna in Italy.

Menciassi and a team of researchers from across Europe focused on an approach to abdominal surgery that integrates the advantages of traditional open surgery — also known as keyhole surgery — and robotic surgery. Supported by €8.1m (£6.5m) in funding from the European Commission, the team has developed two pieces of technology over the last four years.

A tele-operated robotic system dubbed the ‘single-port laparoscopy bimanual robot’ (SPRINT) has been designed to replicate the hand movements of a surgeon. However, the system is unique because it can operate through a single incision (usually the patient’s navel), whereas existing robotic solutions require several incisions to be made to the abdomen.

Menciassi explained: ‘It is a 14-degrees-of-freedom bimanual robot, capable of entering in straight configuration from an umbilical port and opening inside the abdomen to make surgical tasks with high dexterity.’

The reduced size of the system was one of several highly regarded features by surgeons who conducted in vitro tests on a pig in January.

The second device developed by the Araknes team is designed to eliminate the need for incisions entirely. Developed for ‘Natural orifice translumenal endoscopic surgery’ (NOTES), the device consists of a magnetic platform coupled with miniature robotic arms that can be inserted into the patient through an orifice such as the mouth or anus.

Menciassi explained: ‘With regards to the SPRINT robot, we are looking for opportunities for industrial redesign and commercialisation. The NOTES platform is at a research level; some sub-modules could be ready for a fast exploitation, but the motorised miniature modules still require optimisation.’