Public Release: 

Robots, Virtual Reality & Other "Smart" Tools Soon Will Help Physicians Heal Patients

National Science Foundation

Voice-controlled surgical instruments; navigational systems to guide surgical tools; three-dimensional images projected onto patients in the operating room; and physicians thousands of miles apart participating in live surgery -- these are among early 21st century technologies doctors and engineers are dreaming about and developing now.

"We're encouraging close collaboration between engineers and surgeons to rapidly develop research and technology that can provide more precise information and procedures in the doctor's office and the operating room," says Gilbert Devey, a National Science Foundation (NSF) program director in biomedical engineering. "We hope soon to see new, sophisticated systems that physicians can use to improve patient care and, in many cases, even lower the cost of treatment."

Plans for new surgical simulations, image-guided therapies, robotics and teleinterventions are described in a new 135-page report, edited by Anthony M. DiGioia, Takeo Kanade and Peter Wells. The report summarizes the findings of the Second International Workshop on Robotics and Computer Assisted Medical Interventions, held in Bristol, England, June 23-26, 1996.

DiGioia directs the Center for Orthopaedic Research at Shadyside Hospital in Pittsburgh. He and Kanade co-direct the Center for Medical Robotics and Computer-Assisted Surgery at Carnegie Mellon University. Wells is a research director of radiologic services at Bristol General Hospital, England.

Organized by DiGioia and supported by NSF, the workshop convened 52 engineering, computer science and medical researchers from seven nations, nominated by their peers, to assess the status and research needs of this rapidly advancing field.

"We are not talking about replacing physicians, but providing them with more precise tools that take advantage of physicians' skills," says DiGioia. "By coupling the power of these emerging technologies with human skills, we hope to improve our patients' outcomes. Reducing complications and making procedures more precise and less invasive should result in faster recoveries and less need for repeat surgery," he says.

Support for the June workshop was provided by NSF, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), and various commercial partners, and hosted by the United Kingdom's Engineering and Physical Science Research Council. A follow-up workshop is being planned for 1999.

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