Thursday, June 11, 2009

Raquel, Is That You Inside Me?

My generation grew up watching advanced medicine on Star Trek and The Fantastic Voyage. Here's a look at the future from 1966:

Forty-three years later, sans Raquel Welch, researchers from the Medical Robotics Laboratory at the Israel Institute of Technology will be showing off a microrobot called ViRob, a 1mm diameter device that can crawl through vessels and cavities. From MedGadget:
ViRob measures 1 millimeter in diameter and 14 mm in its entirety was developed in the lab of Prof. Shoham in the Medical Robotics Laboratory at the Israel Institute of Technology. The robot moves using an external electromagnetic ignition system, stimulated by an electromagnetic field with frequency and volume that do not agitate the body, enabling it to maneuver in different spaces and surfaces within diverse viscous fluids. The vibration created by the magnetic field propels the robot forward, as the tiny arms protruding from a central body grip the vessel wall. A basic prototype of the ViRob, which can move as fast as 9 mm per second, has been developed thusfar.
Here's a video of the ViRob robot (spoiler alert: no special effects):

If you're more impressed with real products than lab technology, try the da Vinci Surgical System, a remote controlled robotic surgeon coming to a hospital near you soon. Here's the da Vinci trailer (spoiler alert: real blood):

I don't think patients want their surgeons in another building, or country, but the implications for outsourced surgeons are clear.

In Ontario, Canada, the Shouldice Hospital performs only hernia repairs.
Shouldice Hospital has been dedicated to the repair of hernias for over 55 years. The trained team of Shouldice Hospital surgeons have repaired more than 300,000 hernias with a greater than 99% success rate.
Specialization at Shouldice has accomplished what specialization generally accomplishes: far better results. Assuming all the communications are stable between the doctor's console and the operating robot, I would prefer a hernia repair from a surgeon at Shouldice on the other end of a da Vinci System than a local surgeon. That's not quite true. Shouldice may have cleaner operating rooms, better staffed recovery rooms, or other factors that improve its success rate. But chances are, everything else equal, I would get better results from a Shouldice surgeon. How quickly we see outsourced surgeons depends on whether improved success rates of remote specialized surgeons outweigh the cost of the da Vinci Surgical System.

All that science fiction medicine I watched growing up is turning out better than I imagined.

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