The world’s smallest surgeon
Imagine this scenario. A man is lying unconscious on a table whilst a mechanical spider descends from the ceiling. Its steel arms enter his abdomen, probing. After a while it emerges with one arm holding a sealed plastic bag with tissue in it. Science fiction or horror. Neither, this is fact. Da Vinci robots are in use in over 1000 locations around the world. The da Vinci system means the surgeon no longer handles the instruments directly, but via a computer console. This allows greater precision, as large hand gestures can be scaled down to small instrument movements, and any hand tremor is eliminated. The surgeon need not be in the same hospital, or even on the same continent as the patient.
However, the future is miniaturising these robots so that they can enter the human body. This is not yet the fantasy of Disney’s Fantastic Voyage, or Startrek’s medical nano-bots. This is the reality of trials that have been taking place over the last few years with a view to human trials in the near future. The age of the “mini-medibot” is upon us. There are a multitude of devices being suggested. At Imperial College, London, their i-Snake can reach places hard to get to with conventional surgery, and is controlled by the surgeon using a vision tracking device. Another medibot under development, the Inchworm, is just 20mm long and crawls along to the heart, controlled by a joystick, where it can take tissue samples or inject stem cells. This particulat medibot seems gargantuan compared to one in development which is 5 millimetres long and just 1 millimetre in diameter, with 16 vibrating legs. Elsewhere, ophthalmic surgeons are working with engineers to develop medibots small enough to be injected in to the eye using a conventional syringe, and having done its job the medibot bio-degrades and even the small metal parts are absorbed in to the body where they are excreted.
How long before we have these medibots permanently in our bodies keeping us in tiptop condition? See the short New Scientist video in my vodpod section.