Robots and the Future of Surgery

Students at The University of Texas at Austin will have the chance April 24 to test-drive the da Vinci Robotic Surgical System, which uses robotic and 3-D visualization technology to enable surgeons' hand movements to be scaled, filtered and translated into precise movements of the robotic instruments working inside a patient's body.

A panel of surgeons will discuss how robotic surgery is being used now and how it's likely to affect the future of surgery.

"The goal of the event is to expose students, particularly pre-med students, to where medicine and medical technology are headed," says Dr. Reginald Baptiste, associate dean for health professions in the College of Natural Sciences. "This is the future. Students need to see it."

Baptiste, a cardiothoracic surgeon, says that in many respects the discipline of surgery has reached the limits of what it can accomplish relying solely on surgeons' hands and the instruments they can hold in them.

"This is about taking surgery to the next level," he says. "It's a leap in terms of our ability to visualize areas in parts of the bodies that formerly were difficult to see. It's also a leap forward in terms of our ability to be precise and dexterous in these very tight spaces."

Robotic surgical systems such as the da Vinci system are currently used primarily to perform gynecological and urological surgeries. As the technology improves, however, and as more surgeons become trained in it, Baptiste and his colleagues believe that the uses will extend into more types of surgery in more regions of the body.

"Learning the techniques of robotic surgery is actually much quicker and easier than learning traditional laporascopic surgery," says Dr. Thomas Payne, medical director of the Texas Institute for Robotic Surgery at St. David's North Austin Medical Center, which is co-sponsoring the event. "I have no doubt that robotic surgery will be a part of the practice of nearly every current undergraduate who successfully navigates medical school and becomes a successful surgeon. Robotics is the marriage of high tech and the surgical sciences.  The future of this technology is very bright."

The event is being held in the lobby of the Biomedical Engineering Building at the corner of University and Dean Keeton streets.

2 to 5 p.m. Students will be able test the da Vinci Surgical Robot and experience the 3D HD Skills Simulator.

6 to 8 p.m. Surgeons will discuss the da Vinci system and the coming convergence of surgery and bioengineering, during which there will be refreshments and additional time to experience the da Vinci Robot and Simulator.