Robot-assisted surgery is becoming increasingly common for its greater stability, precision, and flexibility for complex procedures. From minimally invasive endoscopic surgery, to complicated heart or brain surgeries, robotic systems are widely used, with the growing demand for minimally invasive procedures that are less painful and safer for patients.
In China, the surgical robot industry is still in its infancy. In the ‘Medium-to-Long-Term Plan for the Development of Science and Technology’ issued by the government in 2006, the development of intelligent robots was, for the first time, earmarked as being of national strategic importance, and listed as a cutting-edge technology for boosting advanced manufacturing.
In line with this, in 2008, when the da Vinci Surgical System was introduced to China, a collaborative project was initiated with government funding support to develop China’s own robotic system for minimally invasive laparoscopic surgery. This has led to the invention of Micro Hand S.
The development of Micro Hand S has involved clinicians from its beginning. This insight helps robotic researchers better understand the issues faced by surgeons, so that they can adjust designs to address clinical needs, such as greater dexterity for complicated procedures, improved force control to ensure safety, a clearer view through the endoscope to allow for precise operation, increased user comfort to reduce fatigue, and shorter time under anaesthesia.
Clinical researchers from the Third Xiangya Hospital of Central South University have advised on the initial design with their clinical experience. Their rich data helped inform the establishment of evaluation criteria for product safety and effectiveness. In the development of the prototype machine, researchers from the hospital also performed in vitro and animal experiments, as well as clinical trials to guarantee evidence-based design.
After more than 10 years of research, design, evaluation tests, and retrospective and prospective clinical studies, the prototype was updated and improved. A phase III clinical trial is planned to ensure the robotic system meets all the clinical requirements.
“Robot-assisted surgery is an inevitable trend given all the benefits it affords,” said Shaihong Zhu, a lead researcher of the Micro Hand S collaborative project from the Third Xiangya Hospital. “It’s not taking away surgeons’ jobs, but making our work easier.”
The development of Micro Hand S heralds the rise of the medical robotics industry in China, and it enhances collaboration to achieve clinical and engineering innovation.