Take heart from robotic surgeon

Surgeons at the University of Pittsburgh have successfully performed a heart bypass operation using ZEUS, a three-armed robot.

The University of Pittsburgh is the first centre in the United States to use the ZEUS Robotic Surgical System during a beating-heart cardiac bypass operation.

Surgeons used the three-armed robot during the most important part of the operation — when the artery being used as the bypass graft is connected to the heart’s main coronary artery.

Marco A Zenati, MD and assistant professor of surgery and principal investigator at the Pittsburgh site, operated the robot while seated at a console about 10 feet from the patient.

One arm of the robot, which responded to his voice commands, positioned the endoscope, an instrument with a tiny camera that magnifies the operative site up to 10 to 15 times.

While viewing the magnified image of the heart and vessels on a high-resolution monitor, Dr Zenati controlled the action of surgical instruments attached to the two other robotic arms by operating handles that resemble conventional surgical instruments.

‘ZEUS is designed to give a surgeon greater precision while performing microsurgical tasks, and to be able to use it during a beating heart operation is quite significant,’ said Dr Zenati. ‘Essentially, it may allow surgeons to perform superhuman tasks, because the robot overcomes our dexterity and precision limitations.’

The hand movements of the surgeon are scaled. One inch of movement by the surgeon is said to result in a 1/4-inch movement by the robotic surgical instruments. Hand tremor is filtered by the computer and translated via the robotic arms into precise micro movements at the operative site.

According to Computer Motion, Inc., the company that developed ZEUS, the possible benefits of using ZEUS in a closed-chest heart bypass surgery include less patient pain and trauma, quicker recovery times and reduced health care costs.

That is because robotics and computers are said to provide enhanced dexterity, steady visualisation and improved ergonomics for the surgeon. The reduced trauma to the patient, from a minimal incision and the avoidance of the heart-lung machine, can translate into reduced costs.