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Grasping tool brings missing sense of touch to keyhole surgery procedures



Minimally-invasive surgery (MIS), also known as keyhole surgery, has many advantages

A team of researchers have developed a simple, yet effective approach for on-demand tactile sensing in keyhole surgery, overcoming a key limitation – the inability of surgeons to ‘feel’ tissues during an operation.

They successfully tested the efficacy of their new tool, which uses off-the-shelf sensors integrated into a laparoscopic grasper.

The team from the NYU Abu Dhabi (NYUAD) Advanced Microfluidics and Microdevices Laboratory (AMMLab) worked with the assistance of surgeons from Cleveland Clinic Abu Dhabi (CCAD).

They were led by NYUAD Associate Professor of Mechanical Engineering and Bioengineering Mohammad Qasaimeh.

“While the current prototype serves as a proof of concept, our future work will focus on developing even more precise ability to mechanically discern subtle differences in tissue stiffness and texture,” said Qasaimeh.

“And in collaboration with our colleagues from the CCAD, we plan to perform experiments with samples that represent better human organs,” said Qasaimeh.

The study was published in the IEEE Journal of Translational Engineering in Health and Medicine.

Keyhole surgery

Minimally-invasive surgery (MIS), also known as keyhole surgery, has many advantages.

Using specialised surgical instruments with thin, long tube-like shafts associated with endoscopes and surgical graspers, needles, and shears, MIS allows visualisation and surgical access to target organs through small incisions.

It requires shorter recovery times than open surgery and often involves less pain and scarring.

Nonetheless, it offers surgeons a limited field of vision and no ability to feel relative differences and stiffness of tissues during operation.

Therefore, MIS operations are associated with the ‘lost sense of touch’ dilemma for surgeons.

Smart forceps

In the study the researchers describe how they incorporated a system of commercially available sensors into common laparoscopic instruments to develop their Smart Laparoscopic Forceps (SLF).

The system measures in real-time the grasping force and angle of the grasped tissue using a force sensor on the grasping jaw and an angle sensor at the handle.

The data is analysed using a microcontroller, and the grasping feedback is displayed on a monitor.

Based on the deformation parameters captured by the two sensors, this smart tool gives the surgeon a relative stiffness index of the tissue on top of the applied force magnitude to help with decision-making throughout the surgery.

Using this approach, conventional surgical tools can be made smart with tactile feedback features, on-demand, and in plug-and-play configuration.

Chicken samples

The prototype was tested in the lab with the help of MIS CCAD surgeons using different soft and hard tissues, including home-fabricated samples with known stiffness, raw and cooked chicken meat samples, as well as sheep samples from digestive organs including stomach and bowel.

Results showed that the developed tool significantly helped them in accurately sort the different samples based on their stiffness.

Further, the developed tool was able to identify hidden embedded lumps within these samples, demonstrating the capability to offer surgeons tactile feedback information including grasping forces, organ stiffness, and the presence of embedded lumps.

“During open surgeries, surgeons use their fingers to interact with internal tissues and organs, giving them tactile information that informs real-time surgical decisions,” said Wael Othman, a PhD candidate in Mechanical Engineering and the first author of the study.

“But open surgeries come with costs, including the need for major incisions and potential serious consequences, including pain, risk of infection and lengthy recovery times.

“Our approach is exciting because it gives surgeons similar tactile information that, until now, has been missing during minimally-invasive surgeries.” 

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