New Robot Lets Surgeons Operate on a Heart While It Still Beats

Heart surgery is usually a case of "be still my beating heart" since it's easier to work with static tissue, despite the risk of brain damage and all the complications of cardiopulmonary bypass machines. No longer, perhaps: some clever bods at Harvard University and the Children's Hospital Boston have come up with a robotic system that can compensate for the movements of a heart in real time...meaning certain procedures can be performed to fix a dicky ticker without halting its beat.

The system uses a 3D ultrasound system to gather data on the heart's shape and movements, and some custom software then predicts the position of the heart 70 to 100 milliseconds ahead of time. A robotic surgical tool then slides back and forth to compensate, allowing surgery to take place on the particular area of the heart of interest and ignoring how that area is moving around.

The tool's still in development, but it's already demonstrated success in animal trials, and the promise of simpler and less dangerous procedures for surgery like mitral valve repair is pretty amazing. If you can stomach the sight of a little blood, there's a short video of the system in action here. It's one of those tricky modern questions... would you let an essentially robotic system operate on you? I sure would, if it meant going home from heart surgery in a few weeks rather than months. [Technologyreview via Slashdot]

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