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Intuitive Surgical's Chris Seibert with a robot that can perform surgery. Surgeons would operate the sterilized robot arms using a computer screen. The robot can make smaller surgical incisions and work within a smaller space than the hands of a physician.
Daily photo by Emily Saunders
Intuitive Surgical's Chris Seibert with a robot that can perform surgery. Surgeons would operate the sterilized robot arms using a computer screen. The robot can make smaller surgical incisions and work within a smaller space than the hands of a physician.

Operating room robotics
Area physicians experiment with surgery-performing robot

By Holly Hollman
hhollman@decaturdaily.com 340-2445

HUNTSVILLE — It looks like a high-tech octopus on wheels.

That's because of the multiple mechanical arms that stretch and bend from a body equipped with a microscope and computer monitor.

The machine is actually a surgery-performing robot called the da Vinci Surgical System.

Intuitive Surgical, based in Sunnyvale, Calif., held a demonstration Monday at Embassy Suites so doctors from Decatur, Athens and Huntsville could experiment with the robot.

The da Vinci system allows a surgeon to be as far as 35 feet from the patient because the doctor is at one machine and the patient at another.

The doctor looks into a viewer on his machine and sees a three-dimensional picture of the body that's under the microscope on the second machine, the one with the mechanical arms.

The doctor places his thumbs and either index or middle fingers into handles at his machine that control the robotic arms on the patient's machine.

Devices on the end of the arms that resemble pincers allow the doctor to do procedures like making cuts and removing tumors.

At Monday's demonstration, doctors and the public experimented with removing a penny from inside a patient and moving rubber rings from one body part to the other.

Chris Seibert, clinical sales representative for Intuitive Surgical, said the closest hospitals to North Alabama that have the system are in Nashville, Birmingham and Chattanooga.

Seibert, son of Limestone County Commission Chairman David Seibert, said the system initially was meant for military use.

"That would have allowed for a surgeon working in the field to be in a safe zone while performing on a patient in a hostile area," Seibert said. "It turned out not to be cost effective for the military, but it's gaining ground commercially."

Seibert said one reason is that the system allows for less invasive surgery.

For example, whereas a woman would experience an abdominal cut for a hysterectomy, with this system, the machine would make dime-size holes.

Athens-Limestone Hospital spokeswoman Gina Hanserd said buying the system is not in the hospital's immediate plans.

"But we're always looking at cutting-edge technology, so it's something we would consider in the future but not for the short term," she said.

Seibert said the system costs $1.6 million.

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