Robotic Microsurgery Instrument Goes Anywhere

A robotic microsurgery instrument that combines tiny robotic hands as well as a connected fiber optic camera was recently demonstrated in a TED talk by surgeon Catherine Mohr. It's the next generation of the well-known da Vinci robotic surgical system.


(Microsurgery instrument)

The device enters the body through an extremely compact tube. Once inside the body, the instruments are extruded and then they fully articulate to allow the surgeon to perform necessary tasks.

As far as I know, the earliest reference to the idea of a true microsurgical instrument occurs in the 1939 short story Massons's Secret by Raymond Z. Gallun.

In his slender hands he held a surgical instrument he had invented. It was a marvel! There was a long steel arm or standard that could be clamped on the end of an operating table. At the end of the arm was a binocular microscope. Beneath the latter were hundreds of screw buttons. And gathered right where the microscope was focused - where a needle-point beam of intense light could be projected for illumination - there was a ring of tiny metal prongs. You turned the screws below and the prongs moved - any or all of them - in any plane or direction you could mention, and with caliper slowness, minuteness and precision. At the end of each prong was a surgical tool - blades, tweezers, probes - so fine you could just see them with the naked eye.

Micro-surgery!..
(Read more about Gallun's micro-surgery instrument)

As far as I can tell by looking at the medical literature in PubMed, the word "micro-surgery" was first published in 1938 in reference to using a microscope while performing a glaucoma procedure. No special instrumentation was mentioned; the prefix "micro" referred to the use of microscopy while performing surgery.

I also wanted to mention that Robert Heinlein thought of the idea of a tiny miniature hand with a microscopic eye that was created by genetic manipulation in his 1941 novel Methuselah's Children".

"...Take that extra appendage at the wrist. That's another hand, a miniature one... backed up by a microscopic eye. You can see how useful that would be, once you get used to the idea..."

Heinlein also wrote about the idea of Ultramicrominiature Waldoes for use in surgery in Time Enough For Love (1973).

Philip K. Dick was also fascinated by the idea of robotic hands for surgeons. See the references for Robot Surgeon-Hand in his 1955 short story War Veteran as well as the Interchangeable Hands in his 1965 novel The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch.

Take a look at the entire TED talk by Dr. Mohr on micro-surgical robots as well; the microsurgery material begins at about 7 minutes into the presentation.

Scroll down for more stories in the same category. (Story submitted 6/29/2009)

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