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Robotic arms cut to quick.

Byline: By Lyndsay Moss

Robotic arms operated by remote control have been successfully used to perform surgery to help obese people lose weight, doctors said yesterday.

Surgeons in the US have been able to develop a safe and efficient way for the surgical robot to perform gastric bypass operations.

And they said it was an improvement on the traditional technique known as laparoscopic surgery.

In both techniques, special tools with cameras attached are inserted through small holes in the patient's body.

But while traditional tools are held in the surgeon's hands, the robotic tools are operated remotely from a control station.

The surgeons, from Stanford University School of Medicine, said using the robot to perform gastric bypass surgery was particularly useful because patients were often morbidly obese.

This was because the robotic arms were strong enough to stay steady while working under the weight of the patient's massive abdomen.

Myriam Curet, an associate professor of surgery who developed the method, said: "It makes the surgery easier." As well as using a 3D camera to aid viewing, the robotic arms also have highly flexible wrists.

These can make possible very precise manoeuvres.

Gastric bypass is the most common form of weight-loss surgery.

The procedure drastically reduces the size of the stomach to limit the amount of food that it can take.

It also bypasses a portion of the small intestine, cutting down on nutrient absorption.

The number of gastric bypass operations has increased rapidly in recent years as obesity has become more common, especially in developed countries such as the US and UK.

In the US, the number of gastric bypass operations increased from 29,000 in 1999 to around 141,000 in 2004.

The procedure has about a 2% risk of death and the patient has to make life-long changes in their eating habits.

But the operation can prove a life-saver for the most morbidly obese patients.

To test the new method, the surgeons compared the results for 10 patients who underwent the robotic surgery, with 10 who had conventional laparoscopic procedures.

They found there were several benefits in using the robot.

The surgeon was able to sit comfortably at the robot's control unit and gently operate the joystick, instead of having to stand over the patient for several hours wrestling with the hand tools.

The robotic method was also quicker, with the procedure taking about 30 minutes less to complete the procedure.

The researchers, writing in Archives of Surgery, said they were confident that the robotic system would, in the long-term, prove to be just as safe and effective as conventional methods.

They said that robotic surgery had been greeted with a degree of cautious scepticism.

But the equipment had already been used to perform other operations, such as kidney removal and some heart procedures.

"People want to see the data and know that it is better," Professor Curet said.

"But they seem open to it."
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Copyright 2005 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Publication:The Journal (Newcastle, England)
Date:Aug 16, 2005
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