Date: July 9, 2020
Mr. Alan Goh, co-founder of NDR Medical Technology, is helping realize the potential of minimally invasive surgeries through robotics and artificial intelligence.
AsianScientist (Jul. 9, 2020) – Since the invention of robots in the early 1950s, these mechanical wonders have pervaded nearly every aspect of our lives—from factories to airports and even parks, where they remind people to practice social distancing. Given their distinctive accuracy and precision, robots have also made their way to the operating room, where they assist human surgeons in intricate procedures.
Robots typically come into play during minimally invasive surgeries. Instead of the large incisions we’ve come to expect (or dread) in traditional open surgeries, minimally invasive surgeries use tiny cuts in the skin, or even no cuts at all. Accordingly, such surgeries are associated with a smaller chance of surgical complications and pain during recovery. But minimally invasive surgery is a difficult skill to learn, let alone master.
In particularly delicate surgeries, any instrument misalignment could lead to the perforation of blood vessels or critical organs, moreso given the fact that these body parts are constantly in motion.
“Spine and brain surgery are actually considered simpler compared to kidney and lung surgeries, because the former are static while the latter are organs with dynamic movement,” explained Mr. Alan Goh, co-founder of Singapore-based medical device company NDR Medical Technology.
To help surgeons master the art of minimally invasive surgeries, Goh and his team have created the Automated Needle Targeting (ANT) system, a powerful combination of robotics and artificial intelligence that assists in the accurate insertion of needles in procedures like biopsies or ablations. Before performing surgeries, doctors typically rely on two-dimensional images from MRIs and CT scans to pinpoint the location of their surgical targets. These images, however, fail to fully capture the three-dimensional environment of a patient’s body. The surgical target’s location becomes subject to interpretation, depending on the doctor’s training, experience and even mood.
The ANT system reduces the subjectivity in surgical procedures by using an AI algorithm to help doctors plan the safest route to a target. The system, which consists of a circular, mechanical guide placed over the operating field, then automatically adjusts the position of the needle to be inserted. According to Goh, the AI algorithm was trained with a set of real, high-quality anatomical images annotated by doctors, enabling the system to learn how to identify and analyze images of tissues, vessels and organs in real-time.
Goh and his team hope that their technology can empower patients and hospitals in more disenfranchised and rural regions. In such places, he observed, patients often do not seek early diagnosis and intervention in cancer therapies due to the lack of appropriate equipment or specialists at their nearest hospitals. It can sometimes take months for patients to be referred to a better-equipped city facility, squandering time that could have been used to begin treatment.
“That’s the reason why we are trying to make our system smarter, automated and easily integratable with common medical imaging tools like CT scanners and ultrasounds,” he explained.
By making the ANT technology widely available in all hospitals and compatible with pre-existing hardware, rural doctors could potentially perform more complex surgeries at their site. Goh foresees that the rising adoption of robotics in surgery will help increase standards of clinical care, particularly in low-resource areas.
“Once we remove the variation from human surgical errors, we will bring clinical care to a certain level. That will help eradicate or reduce mortality not just for cancer but also for other illnesses treated with surgery.”
Credit: Asian Scientist