Surgical Tribune Europe

Robot-assisted surgical technology to meet patients’ individual needs

By University of Basel
August 12, 2020

BASEL, Switzerland: Researchers at the University of Basel have a vision: an individually configurable robot that will revolutionise surgical procedures and provide numerous benefits for patients. They have already taken the first steps in this direction. To further implement their vision, the Werner Siemens Foundation is now extending its funding for the project by CHF12 million
(€11.1 million) to a total of CHF27 million (€25 million).

Planning an operation in virtual reality, cutting a bone with high precision using an intelligent laser saw and using 3D-printed organic implants such as a new knee joint in a minimally invasive surgical procedure: researchers of the Minimally Invasive Robot-Assisted Computer-guided LaserosteotomE (MIRACLE) project want to transform surgery by adapting it to meet the needs of individual patients even more precisely.

Use of a high-tech implant by Florian Thieringer at the University Hospital Basel. Miracle II aims to fundamentally change this procedure. (Image: University of Basel/ F. Thieringer)

During the first project phase, the participating research groups developed technologies to be used in future operating rooms. The second phase now involves combining the individual systems into a modular robot, which can be individually configured for the planned surgical procedure and which already includes the operating table and lamps. The surgeons can monitor this system during the procedure via a console.

For the second project phase, the Werner Siemens Foundation is topping up their funding for the project, which has been running since 2015, by an additional CHF12 million (€25 million). “We are deeply grateful to the Werner Siemens Foundation for supporting our visionary project,” said Prof. Philippe Cattin, co-director of both MIRACLE project phases and head of the Department of Biomedical Engineering at the University of Basel. This opens up a unique opportunity for Basel, a city known for innovation. “Thanks to this financing and our expertise, we are now able to tap into huge opportunities that will open the door for robotics in surgery.”

Customised 3D-printed organic implants

Another result of the first funding phase: precise planning of surgical procedures in virtual reality together with specialists in other countries or continents. (Image: Werner Siemens Foundation/F. Brüderli)

In the first project phase, the team headed by Cattin developed a virtual reality platform for planning surgeries, which is already being used in the hospital. Now this system will also be used to design the shape and composition of implants. In contrast to older, primarily manual methods, this approach aims to enable faster and more precise design. The implants designed in this manner will then be custom manufactured using 3D printing. In the future, it may even be possible to print the implants inside of the body.

“With MIRACLE, we don’t just want to develop a new technology but rather fully transform bone surgery,” explained Prof. Hans-Florian Zeilhofer, surgeon and delegate for innovation at the University of Basel, who headed the first project phase together with Cattin.

“A lot of the surgical procedures we can plan on the computer are not yet possible using currently available tools,” said Dr Florian M. Thieringer, oral and maxillofacial surgeon, who is co-directing MIRACLE II with Cattin and heads the 3D print laboratory at the University Hospital Basel. “We are currently developing the technology with which we can implement this in the operating room.” The idea that surgeons will one day be fully replaced by the robots he is helping to create does not worry him, since the exact planning and strategic decisions on procedures will remain the domain of medical specialists.

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