TED2009: Roboticist Catherine Mohr


Roboticist Catherine Mohr is on stage at TED2009.

She "works on surgical robots and robotic surgical procedures, using robots to make surgery safer -- and to go places where human wrists and eyes simply can't."

She's talking about surgical robots and surgical vision technology. Surgeons are tailors, plumbers, butchers of medical industry.

History of surgery. How did we even come to believe that surgery -- cutting and reforming -- was OK? Shows picture of ancient trepanated (hole drilled in) skull. Goes back 5k to 10k years. This is the dawn of interventional surgery. How much was intended to be religious or therapeutic? we know that these patients lived for many years after being trepanned.

The itinerant barber surgeon - before age of anesthesia. Patient in pain was a public spectacle. Barber surgeon was almost a form of entertainment. Surgery was done on public in front of big crowd.

1847 -- anesthesia. It gave surgeons freedom to operate, to delve deeper into body. A revolution in surgery. But problem: after surgery, the patients died, of massive infection. Surgery didn't hurt but it killed you.

Aseptic technique. Joseph Lister was thought to be a fool for believing that it was as important for surgeons to wash hands before surgery as after. After a while, the medical community warmed to the idea.

Healthy people don't need surgery, unhealthy people need surgery, but since they are unhealthy, it's harder for them to recover.

Laparoscopy -- small incisions. A lot easier on the body. Much easier to heal. But laparoscopy is hard to learn. Surgeons had to give up 3D vision, wrists, etc. External ergonomics are terrible. Instruments are working backwards. You need to take capability of your hand and put it at the business end of instrument.

Robotic surgery tool -- the DaVinci -- has "wrists" and 3D vision that greatly improve dexterity. She's showing amazing videos of heart and prostrate surgery. Tiny pincers at work.

Limitations -- if you need to reach more places that just one, you need to move robot and open new holes in patient. Becomes time-consuming. To solve this we need to bring camera and instruments through one small tube. She's showing a new surgery tool -- it looks like an HR Giger tentacle with mini tentacles that blossom open from the main trunk. Can inject dyes into cells and the light can make cancerous cells visible.