"It's the first time, to our knowledge, that anyone has used the information in a 3-D ultrasound scan to actually guide a robot," said Stephen Smith, professor of biomedical engineering at Duke's Pratt School of Engineering.
In their demonstration, the researchers used 3-D ultrasound images to pinpoint in real time the exact location of targets in a simulated surgical procedure. That spatial information then guided a robotically controlled surgical instrument right to its mark. The scanner could be coupled to the surgeon-operated robots that are being increasingly used for performing minimally invasive "laparoscopic" surgeries on the heart or other organs, Smith said. In such operations, surgeons work through tiny "keyhole" incisions, and the new scanner would provide surgeons a more realistic view of the organ they are working on.
"All the technology is available," Smith said. "We just need to make the connections between the ultrasound scanner and the robots now in use by surgeons. There are no technological barriers to doing that right away." Among other applications, surgeons could use the 3-D scanner to spot potential tumours in real time during biopsy procedures, making a diagnosis of cancer harder to miss, the engineers said. Physicians today must rely on still images, such as CT scans, of a patients' organs captured prior to biopsy to locate lesions suspected to be cancer.
As artificial intelligence technology improves in the coming decades, the scanner might even be able to guide surgical robots without the help of a surgeon, the researchers said. The 3-D ultrasound probe has yet to be tested in human patients, Smith said, but he added that his team believes the technology is ready for clinical trials.
MEDICA.de; Source: Duke University