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Robotic Surgery, Robotic and Technology Center

  • Published Sep 1, 2002 8:00 AM

A robot in the operating room? The patient wasn't concerned. David Ritchie, a school bus driver from Palmdale, was perfectly willing to allow a robot-surgeon team to perform an operation to relieve him of severe heartburn.

"If you had heartburn like I did, you'd be willing," said Ritchie, for whom medication had proven agonizingly ineffective during the eight years he suffered.

"For the first time, I'm virtually pain-free," Ritchie told reporters a week after his surgery during the unveiling of the Center for Advanced Surgical and Interventional Technology.

A collaboration among the UCLA Medical Center, the California NanoSystems Institute and the Department of Biomedical Engineering, as well as industry partners, the center will develop the surgical technology and expertise of the future. It's co-directed by Carlos Gracia, chief of Minimally Invasive Surgery, and Peter Schulam, chief of Endourology and Laparoscopic Surgery.

After nearly a year of training, surgeon Joe Hines, head of the UCLA Heartburn Treatment Center, directed the center's experimental robot to make five 1/4- to 1/2-inch incisions in Ritchie's abdomen. Seated at a console across the room from his patient, with his hands in two egg-shaped "gloves," he guided the sensitive controls while issuing additional instructions to the voice-activated robot through a microphone. Throughout the procedure, a fiber-optic laparoscope the robot had inserted into one incision allowed Hines a view of the operating area on a computer screen.

"It's a very enabling technology," Hines said, noting that the computer makes surgery more precise by translating the surgeon's larger movements into very small ones. It will also adjust for human error such as muscle tremors, which even the most-skilled surgeons experience.

"This technology will allow us to do things we've never done before," said E. Carmack Holmes, chairman of the Department of Surgery. "We will go beyond the capability of human performance."

The industry partners in the Center for Advanced Surgical and Interventional Technology include Computer Motion Inc., Karl Storz Endoscopy-America Inc. and BERCHTOLD Corp.