Drawing on advances in robotics and computer technology, Johns Hopkins University researchers are designing new high-tech medical tools to equip the operating room of the future. These systems and instruments could someday help doctors treat patients more safely and effectively and allow them to perform surgical tasks that are nearly impossible today.
The tools include a snakelike robot that could enable surgeons, operating in the narrow throat region, to make incisions and tie sutures with greater dexterity and precision. Another robot, the steady-hand, may curb a surgeon's natural tremor and allow the doctor to inject drugs into tiny blood vessels in the eye, dissolving clots that can damage vision.
These and other projects are being built by teams in the National Science Foundation Engineering Research Center for Computer-Integrated Surgical Systems and Technology, based at Johns Hopkins. Launched in 1998 with funding from the NSF, the center aims to transform and improve the way many medical procedures are performed.
Working closely with physicians from the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine, the center's engineers and computer scientists are building robotic assistants intended to enhance a surgeon's skills. They are devising detailed visual displays to guide a doctor before and during a difficult medical procedure and planning digital workstations that would give the physician instant access to an enormous amount of medical information about the patient.
Because most of the new medical tools are linked to computers, their work can easily be recorded. Later, these records would be checked against data describing how well a patient responded to the treatment. From this review, doctors could learn which techniques and procedures were most effective. "We could produce the equivalent of a flight-data recorder for the operating room," said Russell H. Taylor, a professor of computer science and director of the center.<
Contact: Phil Sneiderman
Johns Hopkins University