"We're established in this area because of this grant," he said. "There's a good chance we wouldn't be in this field if not for this grant."
Hannaford didn't set out to create a robot. His initial grant, from the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, was to measure surgeons' movements and develop a way to evaluate their skills statistically with software.
"Surgical training is modeled like a medieval apprenticeship: You go to med school and then you have a residency where you hang out with a surgeon and watch, and they let you help out a little bit and you try more and more parts of the operation," he said. "It isn't formalized. There aren't official milestones for each year."
After completing that research, Hannaford took his data on surgeon movement and crafted his robot. Renowned telesurgeon Dr. Tim Broderick put the robot through its paces June 3-11 in Simi Valley, California via a communications link that was bounced off an unmanned aerial vehicle, Broderick operated Hannaford's robot first from the valley and then from Seattle.
The desert experiment was a success, said Dr. Gerry Moses of the Telemedicine and Advanced Technology Research Center, which also funds part of Hannaford's research. "It encountered some challenges with the communications link, but there were no considerable technical challenges. In fact, this gave us a roadmap of what we need to work on next," he said.
Not having surgical expertise in remote areas is not just a military issue, Hannaford said. The University of Washington in Seattle is the only medical school in five states and has patients who hail from Alaska, Montana, Idaho and Wyoming.
"There are patients in Alaska who are 1,700 miles from Seattle. If their little clinic can't handle the problem, they come all the way to Seattle. Some patients might be resistant to the idea (of robotic telesurgery) at first, but surgeons have found many patients recep
Contact: Karen Fleming-Michael
US Department of Defense Congressionally Directed Medical Research Programs