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STAR: a robot in the operating room

STAR, short for Smart Tissue Autonomous Robot, operated on the soft tissues of four pigs to reconnect two ends of an intestine, one of the most delicate tasks in abdominal surgery. A team of researchers from Johns Hopkins University has successfully used a robot to perform complex laparoscopic surgery without human help. The study results, published in the journal Science Robotics, mark a significant step in robotics towards fully automated surgery on humans.

The STAR robot performed a laparoscopic intestinal anastomosis on four animals independently for the first time.

Fully automated

This is the greatest achievement in robot surgery ever before. But it doesn’t have to scare medical professionals.

In effect, STAR is short for operating on the soft tissues of four pigs to reconnect two ends of an intestine, one of the most delicate tasks in abdominal surgery. The study results, published in the journal Science Robotics, mark a significant step in robotics towards fully automated surgery on humans.

“Our results show that we can automate one of the most intricate and delicate tasks in surgery: the reconnection of two ends of an intestine. STAR performed the procedure in four animals and produced significantly better results than humans performing the same procedure”

senior author Axel Krieger, assistant professor of mechanical engineering at Johns Hopkins Whiting School of Engineering.

Better surgical precision

The robot intervenes in laparoscopy, that is through a small hole with a minimally invasive technique. It has new features that guarantee greater autonomy and better surgical precision, including specialized suturing tools and advanced imaging systems that provide a more accurate view of the surgical field.

Soft tissue surgery is particularly difficult for humans, and even more so for robots, due to its unpredictability, forcing the operator to be able to adapt quickly to handle unexpected obstacles. The STAR robot is equipped with a sophisticated control system that makes it capable of modifying the procedure in real-time, just like a human surgeon would.

“What makes the Star special is that it is the first robotic system to plan, fit and execute a surgical plan in soft tissue with minimal human intervention”

Axel Krieger, assistant professor of mechanical engineering at Johns Hopkins Whiting School of Engineering

All thanks to an algorithm

STAR’s particular abilities are due to a sophisticated automatic learning algorithm and an advanced three-dimensional artificial vision system. Thanks to these two elements, the latest generation intelligent robot could potentially replace at least part of the human being in high-precision surgical operations.

“Robotic anastomosis is a way to ensure that surgical activities that require high precision and repeatability can be performed with greater accuracy and precision in each patient, regardless of the surgeon’s skill. We can speculate that this will result in a standard surgical approach in patient care with more predictable and consistent outcomes for patients”

Krieger

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