Robotics come to the operating room

Patients experience less pain, heal faster with surgeon-directed robot

Tuesday, July 24, 2007 3:13 PM CDT

Everyone is familiar with an operating room. They can be found scattered across television screens, the central focus of TV series, reality shows and soap operas. Teams of doctors and nurses huddle beneath a large lamp. A patient lies on an operating table. The camera scans across a tray filled with scapels, retractors, saws and other arcane instruments.

 Cut to the Siteman Cancer Center. There a doctor gazes intently at computer console while using hand controls to maneuver a trio of robotic arms in an operating theater in the next room.

Two of the arms hold surgical tools while the third holds a camera that is focused on the area being operated on. A surgeon stands beside the robot to assist in the procedure.

The terminal and robot make up a million-dollar surgical device known as the da Vinci Surgical System. The system has been in use since June by urologists at Barnes-Jewish Hospital.

"We obtained the da Vinci System about two months ago and this is one of the first in the St. Louis area," said Dr. Sam Bhayani, co-director of robotic surgery at Washington University School of Medicine.

The da Vinci System has been used for a variety of procedures, but most commonly for prostate removal in patients suffering from prostate cancer. Other procedures include removal of small kidney tumors and removal of the bladder for bladder cancer,

"Mostly what we are using the robot for these days is prostate surgery. We will be moving into other areas such as kidney surgery and bladder surgery in the future," Dr. Adam Kibel, co-director of robotic surgery at Washington University School of Medicine. Bhayani and Kibel are surgeons at Barnes-Jewish Hospital.

Both doctors believe there are no down sides to the system, only positives. The minimally invasive procedure means less pain for patients and a shorter recovery time.

Instead of a long incision, the patient has six small holes through which the robot allows the surgeon to work, Bhayani said.

From a doctor's perspective, there are countless advantages. The optics allow the surgeon to closely scrutinize the organs.

Not every person is a candidate for da Vinci Surgical System. However, the vast majority of patients who can have their prostate removed with minimally invasive procedures are candidates for the da Vinci System.

"Currently, the robot only follows commands. Therefore, the robot can only do what the surgeon can do and nothing more. In the future, possibly robots will do things without supervision, but not at the current time," Bhayani said.


In Picture: Dr. Adam S. Kibel, a surgeon at Barnes-Jewish Hospital, sits at a console and operates a robot, which is performing a surgical procedure on a patient in a separate room.