AI robot performs heart surgery on live pigs
Major breakthrough as robotic catheter finds its own way around, and it could change the face of heart surgery
Whenever a surgeon cuts open a patient’s body to perform surgery, there are risks involved. This is particularly true of heart surgery because of what it takes to reach the heart and also because the heart is temporarily “stopped” from beating during such procedures.
Now, scientists have successfully created a robotic catheter that was able to work on its own on the blood-filled beating hearts of live pigs.
This type of robotic intervention could ultimately change the face of heart surgery.
According to the scientists at Harvard Medical School who just had their paper published in the journal Science Robotics, “the catheter was able to reach its destination 95% of the time and closed a leakage site with similar success rates as an experienced clinician”.
It was powered by machine-learning algorithms that were “inspired by the way animals learn their surroundings, a process that includes responding positively to touch”.
The scientists’ algorithms meant the robotic catheter could autonomously navigate inside the heart by creating contact with the heart tissue then following tissue walls to reach a goal location.
Although all minimally invasive procedures involve “navigating from a small incision in the skin to the site of the intervention”, it has not been previously demonstrated how this can be “performed autonomously”.
According to lead researcher Georgios Fagogenis, “minimally invasive surgery reduces the trauma associated with traditional open surgery, resulting in faster recovery time, fewer wound infections, and reduced post-operative pain”.
Open-heart surgery is particularly traumatic because it involves cutting and spreading the sternum to expose the heart, so finding ways to reduce the trauma to the patient’s body is crucial.
This intervention means the the heart does not have to be stopped and the patient does not have to be placed on cardiopulmonary bypass (CPB).
CPB is a technique in which a machine temporarily takes over the function of the heart and lungs during surgery so circulation of blood and oxygen in the patient’s body can continue during the operation.
The researchers say the use of autonomous robots in minimally invasive procedures could reduce the trauma and infection risks of open surgery, and relieve clinicians of “challenging yet routine tasks – such as safely navigating a catheter inside a pulsating heart to its site of intervention – so that they are less fatigued and can devote attention to other critical aspects of a surgical procedure”.
The team tested the system in 83 trials on five pigs and in all cases, after the procedure was performed, there was no evidence of bruising or other tissue damage.