Medical Robotics Magazine

The first and only commercial feature medical robotics news magazine, founded February 2007 by John J. Otrompke, JD, consultant and publisher


Medical Robotics Magazine is the world's first and only commercial feature news magazine devoted to all aspect of the medical robotics industry- including robotic surgery, physical therapy robots, hospital orderlies, and other topics related to robotic medicine. As a feature magazine, Medical Robotics features interviews, business news, conference coverage and editorials, as well as a generous portion of articles written by noteworthy robotics surgeons as well as clinical trials reports. MR has been on-line since 2007, and first appeared in print in January of 2008 at the annual meeting of MIRA (the Minimally Invasive Robotics Association) in Rome, Italy. Medical Robotics Magazine is copyrighted, features a nascent Board of Editorial Advisors, and is indexed by the U.S. Library of Congress. All contents (c) 2011 John J. Otrompke, JD Contact: John J. Otrompke, JD 646-730-0179

Wednesday, August 8, 2007

Canadian Firm Draws Big Funding for Developing Device for Robotic MicroSurgery: $27 Million

By John J. Otrompke, JD

A robotic surgery device intended for “image-guided microsurgery” has drawn big funding and expertise, and is expected to human trials in Canada this year.

The NeuroArm, being developed by the University of Calgary in conjunction with engineering firm MacDonald, Dettwiler and Associates is capable of both biopsy-stereotaxy and microsurgery, according to Dr. Garnette Sutherland, MD, a practicing surgeon and professor of neurosurgery at the University of Calgary.

Funding for Delicate Procedures

MDA is the engineering firm which has designed a robotic arm called CanadArm for the space shuttle and international space station. Sutherland said the multi-year effort has been funded with $27 million Canadian, including $10 million for research and development.

“Probably the first patient will be a person with a brain tumor, which will probably be very accessible, and we’ll use NeuroArm for part of it,” said Sutherland.

Sutherland added that developments in science furnished a reason for building a new robotic surgery device.

“Everything that has happened in neurosurgery could be linked to advances in lesion localization, starting with an air-injection process called pneumo-encephalography in about 1914. Then in the 1930s they introduced contrast angiography. But the real inventions that revolutionized neurosurgery came in the 1970s, with CT imaging and MR imaging. Then in the late 1990s they introduced MR imaging into the operating room, further enhancing lesion localization, and allowing craniotomies to become ever smaller.

“There has been a trend towards minimalist surgery, with the smallest incision about a centimeter and the smallest instrument a few millimeters,” he continued.

The NeuroArm can manipulate spatial tissue as small as 50 microns, he said.

“When we started our project, we had engineers from MDA come to the operating room at Calgary and park there and watch how neurosurgeons manipulate tools, pass them to the nurse and back again to the head, because the robot has to integrate as a team member,” said Sutherland, adding that NeuroArm was the firm’s first foray into surgical robots.

Why a New Robot?

Sutherland stressed that while he envisions the NeuroArm, if it ever gets approved as operating in a different context from the Da Vinci, there may be areas in which the NeuroArm offers improvements, at least for certain procedures, he said.

“I don’t see us as competing with the da Vinci, which is a really good robot for minimally invasive endoscopic procedures,” said Sutherland, who has worked with a da Vinci device. “We work in a different field, biopsy-stereotaxy and microsurgery, although endoscopy is also a form of microsurgery, since there’s a microscope,” he added. The Da Vinci system is the only surgical robot presently licensed in Canada, according to Sutherland.

Microsurgical procedures include plastic surgery, opthalmologic surgery, and laryngology, “where people do ear operations, and try to replace the little bones,” he said.

Sutherland said the NeuroArm will also try to make other contributions to the field of robotic surgery, especially in the areas of haptics and sound.

“Surgeons discriminate tissue plains based on the feel, if one is softer, and one firmer, and they take advantage of the soft tissue boundary between tumor or aneurysm and the brain. The surgeon must feel what our machine feels. What is the alphabet of touch and what are the ingredients that make up touch, and can engineers recreate that for surgeons?”

The other improvement being worked on is sound, according to Sutherland. “We want to recreate the sound of surgery. When a surgeon has a little suction device, and it sucks on something soft, it makes a little different pitch from when it sucks on something hard.”

Sutherland said he hopes the NeuroArm will be licensed soon. The good thing about working with a company like MDA is that the aerospace industry is very good at documenting safety, and that’s what the regulatory bodies for medicine are all about.

Follow MedicalRobotic on Twitter