The $1.4 million robot named da Vinci can hold a camera in one hand while manipulating tiny laparoscopic surgical tools in its other hands. And it never tires like its human counterparts.
With a human surgeon at the controls, da Vinci filters out tremor, enhances precision, offers three-dimensional imaging and eliminates the inverted manipulation of instruments usually required in laparoscopic procedures.
"The buzzword is 'more precise than humanly possible.' That's the rationale for this technology," said Dr. Daniel Scott, director of the Southwestern Center for Minimally Invasive Surgery and assistant professor of surgery at UT Southwestern.
Although testing the four-armed robot is still ongoing, Dr. Scott said, "It seems advantageous from the standpoint of precision for some procedures."
Da Vinci is most popular in urology for that reason, especially for prostate operations. It's also proved useful in surgeries on the esophagus and stomach. Researchers also are investigating its practicality for cardiac surgery such as coronary artery bypass grafting and valve replacement.
"It may well prove useful for general surgery procedures that have traditionally required open incisions like biliary reconstruction or pancreatic surgery," Dr. Scott said.
Laparoscopic surgeries, also called minimally invasive surgeries, are performed via several tiny holes rather than one long incision, reducing post-operative pain and recovery times. The method is increasingly popular.
The first robotic surgery, performed in 1995, relieved the need for an assistant to hold the camera during laparoscopic procedures. Da Vinci represents the next step, offering an instrument that actually performs the surgery based on controls handled by the surgeon.