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New robotic system could let surgeons operate on a beating heart

Donald Melanson, @donmelanson
December 11, 2009
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It may not have been put into practice just yet, but it looks like a new robotic-assisted system could one day let surgeons use a surgical robot (like Da Vinci system pictured at left) to operate on a beating human heart. That impressive development comes courtesy of a group of researchers at France's Montpellier Laboratory of Informatics, Robotics, and Microelectronics, and centers on a new 3D modeling system that can track the motion of the heart's surface as it beats. It can even apparently adjust for things like movement of the patient's chest wall during breathing, and predict the movements in a single step (unlike previous attempts that resulted in a delay). When paired with a robotic arm, the system would effectively let surgeons operate on a heart as if it were completely still. In addition to being generally amazing, the system could also potentially open up a number of new possibilities for heart surgery, not the least of which is the ability to operate on patients for whom the risks of surgery have previously outweighed the benefits.

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