“Many things are a certain way because they have evolved and adapted to certain functions … we created something that followed the human anatomy and borrowed ideas from nature and incorporated the two.”
Inspired by Singapore’s famous chilli crab dish, researchers have created a miniature robot with a pincer and a hook that can remove early-stage stomach cancers without leaving any scars.
Stomach cancer is the second leading cause of cancer deaths worldwide and is particularly common in east Asia. Diagnosis of gastric cancer usually occurs at a late stage of the disease when treatment is difficult and often unsuccessful.
In a combined effort between surgeons and engineers, Professor Lawrence Ho, who works at Singapore’s National University Hospital, has helped design a robot in conjunction with Louis Phee, associate professor at Singapore’s Nanyang Technological Institute’s school of mechanical and aerospace engineering.
They developed the robot after a seafood dinner in Singapore in 2004 with top Hong Kong surgeon Sydney Chung, who suggested they fashioned their device after the crab. Chung is best known for fighting SARS in Hong Kong in 2003.
“He (Chung) suggested we used the crab as a prototype. The crab can pick up sand and its pincers are very strong,” said Dr. Ho.
How does it work?
Mounted on an endoscope, the device is introduced to the patient’s gut through the mouth. It has a pincer to hold cancerous tissues, and a hook that slices them off and coagulates blood to stop bleeding.
Using its endoscopic camera the surgeon sees what’s inside the gut and controls the robotic arms remotely while sitting in front of a monitor screen.
“Our movements are very huge and if you want to make very fine movements, your hands will tremble … But robots can execute very fine movements without trembling,” said enterologist Lawrence Ho, who helped design the robot.
The robot has already helped remove early-stage stomach cancers in five patients in India and Hong Kong, reportedly in a fraction of the time normally taken in open and keyhole surgeries that put patients at higher risk of infection and leave behind scars.
The researchers formed a company last October and hope to make the robot commercially available in three years.
Source: The Globe and Mail