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Robotic Surgery: Custom 3D Printed Surgical Instruments for Every Patient

Robotic surgery is a method to perform minimally invasive surgery. The surgeon uses very small tools attached to a robotic arm and controls it through a computer. This method allows for enhancing the capabilities of surgeons performing open surgery.

Today’s instruments that are used to perform minimally invasive surgery are rigid devices. They also tend to be one-size-fits-all solutions that surgeons have to use on patients with varied anatomies.

“At the moment surgeons use what is best described as rigid ‘one-size-fits-all’ tools for knee arthroscopy procedures, even though patients and their anatomy can vary significantly,” Professor Crawford said.

Now, a team at the Australian Centre for Robotic Vision is developing custom robotic surgical instruments that align with a given patient’s anatomy. The idea is that a knee, for example, would be imaged using an MRI machine and the resulting scan used to define where the robot can and cannot go. Targets are set and a path is defined for the robotic instrument to navigate.

This project is being developed as an evolutionary computational design algorithm that simulates how various “SnakeBots” can move through the digital 3D maze. These generate trajectories that can be scored and the best candidates are chosen from a very large selection of these modular robots. Once the best is selected, it can be quickly created ahead of the procedure using a 3D printer. 

 “The research project aims to design snake-like robots as miniaturized and highly dexterous surgical tools, fitted with computer vision capabilities and the ability to navigate around obstacles in confined spaces such as the anatomy of the human body,” Professor Crawford said.

Patient-specific SnakeBots are created specifically suited to fit, flexibly maneuver and see inside a patient’s knee, doubling as a surgeon’s eyes and tools. But there are more advantages to this robotic surgery custom 3D printed instruments: being low-cost (3D printed) and disposable.

The Australian researchers believe that their approach mimics how evolution works by selecting for certain beneficial traits. Potentially, multiple robots could be used simultaneously in future iterations of this work.

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