Robodoc: surgeon of the future in theaters now

Tue Nov 4, 2008 11:16am EST
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By Ben Hirschler

LONDON (Reuters) - A mechanical snake that can enter the body through natural orifices -- not an incision -- to perform operations is just one futuristic device researchers believe will transform traditional surgical techniques.

With a world recession looming and healthcare budgets under pressure, it may seem an odd time to be bullish about hi-tech surgery.

Robots, after all, are not cheap. The average selling price of the market-leading da Vinci system from California's Intuitive Surgical Inc is $1.35 million.

Some critics, including British fertility expert Robert Winston, have questioned the cost-effectiveness of robots when other treatments, such as cancer drugs, are being rationed.

But proponents note prices will inevitably fall as usage and competition increase, as happened with once-costly computers.

Tens of thousands of prostate, heart and other procedures are already being performed by robots, and experts predict machines will be used to penetrate deeper into ailing bodies in the years ahead.

In a university laboratory behind London's Science Museum, researchers are working on a new generation of hi-tech gadgets to take minimally invasive robotic surgery to the next level.

The prospect of robot arms probing into the abdomen may be alarming but their precision can mean less trauma, quicker recovery, a shorter stay in hospital and reduced tissue damage.   Continued...

<p>Professor Lord Ara Darzi speaks to Reuters about robotic surgery in front of video images of robots performing surgery at Imperial College London October 24, 2008. REUTERS/Luke MacGregor</p>