Robotics: the necessary future of medicine

The field of robotics offers new possibilities in medicine, but it gets overlooked far too often.

Anant Naik

It seems that technological advancements in medicine are happening daily. Companies and universities alike are advancing the pace at which we are improving the quality of health care for many people.

However, the importance of robotics seems to be incredibly undersold in its importance to medicine. Instead, robotic medicine should be at the forefront of science.

Recently, a surgical robot in London called the Da Vinci XI conducted its first surgery on a patient with colon cancer. The procedure with a surgeon is a challenging one, requiring incredibly intrusive procedures. Dr. Pardeep Kumar, a surgeon at the hospital, explained that the robot “acts as an extension of the surgeon’s hands and allows us to carry out complex surgeries through tiny incisions.”

The advantage of the non-invasiveness of these procedures cannot be overstated. Invasive procedures in renal and kidney surgeries can result in an increase in mortality and increased risk of renal failure. A recent study from Harvard University concluded that at least in the cases of surgeries pertaining to the renal system and the kidneys, the potential risks and costs are far outweighed by the benefits provided by surgical robots.

The precision that is offered by robotic tools can help to increase the range of procedures that doctors could perform on patients.

But surgical robots aren’t the only area of research where robotics is the future. At Johns Hopkins University, researchers are engineering “soft robots” that could be used in drug delivery and do easier biopsy procedures. With “microgrippers,” they have the capacity to latch on to specific tissues in the body.

Medical robotic research isn’t new for the University of Minnesota. We have several ongoing projects, including a robotic arm that has six degrees of freedom, called the CORVUS Arm, which has the ability to carry out any procedure with tools at the other end.

The future is limitless. A recent article by the New York Times explained that the treatment of Ebola was getting incredibly difficult. Doctors were being forced to use full-body suits to prevent contamination. Even the use of a stethoscope was incredibly risky.

This shows an area where there is potential for robotics. Doctors wouldn’t need to actually touch a patient to incur a risk of infection from any disease. If anything, research has been driving robots to develop a sense of touch by sensing pressure applied to objects surrounding it.

Though we probably won’t be seeing medical robot companions that will solve all of our problems, we are beginning to see that robotics are the future of innovation and hold endless possibilities in the world of health research.