Johns Hopkins scientist programs robot to perform ‘soft tissue’ surgery

June 29, 2016

Leonard, SimonNot even the surest surgeon’s hand is quite as steady and consistent as a robotic arm built of metal and plastic, programmed to perform the same motions over and over. And limited robotic automation is already used in surgeries involving rigid structures such as bones. But can a robot handle the slips and squirms of soft tissues during a surgery?

Simon Leonard, a Johns Hopkins University computer scientist, is part of a team that has published research showing that a robot surgeon can indeed adjust to the subtle movement and deformation of soft tissue to execute precise and consistent suturing. The research, which was published earlier this week in the journal Science Translational Medicine, promises to improve results for patients and make the best surgical techniques more widely available.

“There’s a wide range of skills out there” among surgeons, says Leonard, an assistant research professor in JHU’s Whiting School of Engineering. He has worked for four years to program the robotic arm to precisely stitch together pieces of soft tissue and says putting a robot to work in this form of surgery “really levels the playing field.”

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