i-Snake, a new robotic surgeon

Several newspapers in the UK have published today very short articles about the i-Snake, a new surgical robot which will be developed at the Imperial College London (ICL). For example, The Times of London writes that the ICL team has won a £2.1 million grant (€2.84 million or US$4.2 million) to design this surgical robot over the next four or five years. This highly flexible robot 'could allow coronary bypass operations to be performed without the need for open-heart surgery.' And it would help heal your heart after travelling through blood vessels. The research team thinks that the i-Snake could also be used as a diagnosis tool replacing the eyes of a surgeon when looking inside us.

Several newspapers in the UK have published today very short articles about the i-Snake, a new surgical robot which will be developed at the Imperial College London (ICL). For example, The Times of London writes that the ICL team has won a £2.1 million grant (€2.84 million or US$4.2 million) to design this surgical robot over the next four or five years. This highly flexible robot 'could allow coronary bypass operations to be performed without the need for open-heart surgery.' And it would help heal your heart after travelling through blood vessels. The research team thinks that the i-Snake could also be used as a diagnosis tool replacing the eyes of a surgeon when looking inside us.

i-Snake, a new robotic surgeon

There are not many available pictures of the future i-Snake, but you can see on the left how this highly flexible robot would be able to help surgeons to perform heart bypass surgery. (Credit: BBC News)

The ICL research team includes Professor Sir Ara Darzi, who has been recently appointed as a Department of Health minister (read "Surgeon appointed as minister" for more details) (BBC News, June 29, 2007). In fact, his official title is Parliamentary Under Secretary of State, as you can verify on this page which shows the various UK Department of Health ministers. According to The Times, Darzi "still works as a surgeon one day a week."

The team also includes Professor Guang-Zhong Yang and Dr Thanos Athanasiou, the Department of Biosurgery and Surgical Technology at ICL and its Robotics and Imaging group.

In "i-Snake 'will transform surgery'," BBC News provides additional details about what the researchers say about the i-Snake -- and the picture you can see above. "They envisage using the i-Snake -- a long tube housing special motors, sensors and imaging tools -- for heart bypass surgeryBut it could also be used to diagnose problems in the gut and bowel by acting as the surgeon's hands and eyes in hard to reach places inside the body."

Obviously, one of the goals is to reduce scars -- and skin incisions. "One approach is Natural Orifice Translumenal Endoscopic Surgery or Notes. This means operating in the peritoneal space through natural orifices or cavities, such as the bowel." And Lord Darzi said: "The unrivalled imaging and sensing capabilities coupled with the accessibility and sensitivity of i-Snake will enable more complex diagnostic and therapeutic procedures than are currently possible."

The Guardian also spoke with Sir Ara Darzi. In "£2m to develop i-Snake robot for keyhole surgery," he said, "From the patient perspective, we're trying to reduce the trauma of surgery. From a surgical perspective, what we're trying to achieve is better precision."

And here are some more details provided by The Guardian. [Darzi] said i-Snake could be in use within five years, resulting in cheaper operations and faster recovery times for patients. The robot's diameter will vary between that of a 5p and a 10p piece and it will contain fibre-optic cables to relay information to the surgeon. Using technology from the aerospace industry, i-Snake will incorporate state-of-the-art imaging, pressure and navigational sensors that will allow it to carry out more complex procedures. It could be used to cut out small tumours in the treatment of bowel cancer."

In this document about Robotic Research in Surgery and Healthcare at ICL, you can read a brief description of the project. It appears on page 10 of this 24-page document. It is called "i-Snake: The Development of a Snake Robot for Minimally Invasive Surgical Applications. And it states that "The aim of this project is to provide a sensorised, intelligent snake robot for minimally invasive surgical procedures. Such a device will enhance a surgeon’s ability to operate through small incisions by providing novel intra-operative imaging, sensory feedback for tissue-instrument interaction and navigation guidance."

Finally, you also can read this page about Image Guided Intervention and Robotic Surgery Current Projects (scroll to the last project about "Robotic and Haptic Systems for Minimally Invasive Surgery").

Sources: David Rose, The Times, December 29, 2007; BBC News, December 29, 2007; Alok Jha, The Guardian, December 29, 2007; and various websites

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