SCIENCE!

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Science!: Monkeys, Robots and Ovaries

Lauren Admire | 14 Dec 2009 21:00
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Meet Dr. Bot, Your Friendly, Neighborhood Surgeon

OK, the following information just terrifies me: H+ magazine has put together a feature of Robots Likely to Be Coming to a Hospital Near You. The surgeons of the future didn't graduate top of their medical school class, but they were perhaps made by the top electrical engineering graduate studentsat MIT. These "medbots" have a wider range of movement than humans naturally do, and so can perform surgery more precisely and accurately - with decreased blood loss, smaller incisions and less pain for the patient (unless, of course, it goes I, Robot, on them).

The first medbot featured is the Da Vinci system. It's a human-controlled set of pincers that can peel a grape perfectly. I'm not joking, just look at the video. Hopefully, the grape was under anesthesia, because the 8-bit repetitive music and the sight of three cold, robotic pincers coming at me would make me start screaming and never stop.

In a CNN interview, Dr. Nikhil Shaw is shown removing a prostate from a patient - but he's using robotic arms and a joystick to do so. According to Shaw, "[The Da Vinci system] takes away some of the impreciseness of the human hand. I'm able to use my hands to control the instruments, but I'm able to do it more delicately."

The next medbot is called "The Heartlander." This instrument will eventually be able to deliver minimally-invasive therapy to the human heart - while it's still beating. It's sort of like a rover - the HeartLander is placed on top of the beating heart, and then the surgeon will guide it using a joystick towards areas that need an injection of medicine or pacemaker electrodes. Though not currently available, it has been tested on a live pig's heart.

The "Virob" is a tinier version of the medbots - it measures a mere 1 millimeter in diameter, and 5 millimeters in length. It's designed to deliver drugs to hard-to-reach areas of the human body using its magnetic field to make its way through veins, arteries, even blood vessels. Speaking of tiny, have you heard of nanobots? Of course you have, in science fiction books. But they're beginning to stretch into the realm of non-fiction.

Researchers from the École Polytechnique de Montréal have engineered living bacteria with polymers that could eventually locate and attack growing cancerous cells. Researcher Sylvain Martel used these hybrid nanobots to steer through the carotid artery of a living pig using magnetic resonance imaging. Eventually, advanced nanobots will be able to adapt to their surrounding environment, move and communicate with each other and perhaps even replicate themselves.

Source: H+ Magazine

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