The surgeon's finger motions, conveyed through sophisticated joy sticks, direct the minute maneuvers carried out by two robotic hands holding surgical instruments.
The surgeon views the surgery on a computer screen, which shows an enlarged and three-dimensional view of the surgical area. The images are transmitted by a tiny camera with multiple lenses, which is attached to a third robotic hand.
"This technology enhances a surgeon's skills, making it easier to do more complex surgeries laparoscopically -- that is with incisions as small as one centimeter," says Michael Blute, M.D., a urologist at Mayo Clinic.
"Patients who have laparoscopic surgery, rather than open surgery, often recover more quickly and return to their normal activities sooner," says Dr. Blute.
Surgery for prostate removal
Mayo Clinic surgeons expect to use this new technology, called the da Vinci system, to remove prostate glands, a common treatment for prostate cancer, and for other urologic surgeries.
Prostate cancer is the second-leading cause of cancer deaths in American men. Surgery to remove the prostate gland, called radical prostatectomy, is one of the most effective ways to treat prostate cancer. Typically, radical prostatectomies are open surgeries, with larger incisions.
The da Vinci system was approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration in 2001 for prostate surgery. Last year, a handful of U.S. medical centers in the United States began using da Vinci for other types of general laparoscopic surgery and for some chest surgeries.
Laparoscopic surgery is not new, but a limited number of procedures can be done with this technique, and it requires years of surgical training.