Catherine Mohr Promises More Robotic Surgery

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No matter how much it begs, never give your robot a knife – it will want to play surgeon. Engineer, medical doctor, and inventor Catherine Mohr is pushing the boundaries of medicine by pioneering new robotically assisted surgery methods and devices. Using a simulator interface and remote controlled instruments, Mohr’s operating room of the future will be more video game than butcher’s slab. By focusing on fewer incisions, more flexibility, and more versatility the robotic surgeons of the future will allow you to heal faster and better. The good doctor described her vision at this year’s TED talks a few months ago. Stay tuned after the break for the video.

Catherine Mohr is on the cutting edge of robotic surgery. Photo by Liz Hafalia
Catherine Mohr is on the cutting edge of robotic surgery. Photo by Liz Hafalia

The wonderful thing about robotic surgery is that it is already here. Thousands of robotically assisted surgeries are performed every year in the U.S. The da Vinci robot, which has been around since 1999, and which Singularity Hub has discussed before, has become the most popular method for conducting prostatectomies. Surgeons are able to use 3D imaging, and intuitive controls to manipulate da Vinci’s pincers and clamps in a way that is more precise than typical manual surgeries. More importantly, they can do these procedures through just a few incisions rather than opening up the entire chest cavity. The combination of precision and minimal invasion allows these robots to sew a blood vessel onto a beating heart.

Catherine Mohr, of course, isn’t satisfied with a “few” incisions. She’s aiming to bring that down to one. Instead of having a high-definition camera on one stalk of a robot, and a manipulation tool on another stalk, Mohr is advocating combining each of these instruments into a single unit. In this fashion, all the necessary devices would spring out from the one tube, branching out and turning back to face the point of interest. It’s like putting a complete and tiny surgical team inside the body through just one cut.

Mohr’s TED talk took the scenic approach to discussing modern robotic surgery. Feel free to skip ahead 9 minutes to get to the cool stuff. Fair warning to the squeamish, her examples are graphic! While I am suitably in awe of her new single-incision robotic surgery system (I can’t believe the TED audience didn’t applaud for it), her discussion of indicating markers really got me excited. These non-radioactive chemicals bond to tissue and are made to fluoresce. You can pinpoint cancer cells, or blood flow in vessels, or delicate nerve tissue by looking for what glows. In Mohr’s words: “…we can reach it all, and we can see it all.”