A new age of surgical robotics research

March 2, 2011

A new age of surgical robotics research

Researchers at Vancouver Coastal Health (VCH) and the University of British Columbia are embarking on what they say will be a new era of surgical robotics research in Canada.

The team recently took possession of two da Vinci surgical robots, one located in the Surgical Technology Experimental Laboratory and Advanced Robotics (STELLAR) lab at Vancouver General Hospital and the other in the Robotics and Control Laboratory (RCL) in Electrical and Computer Engineering at UBC. Teams of surgeons and engineers at both sites will be designing, developing, and integrating cutting-edge surgical solutions with the potential to help whole populations of patients in the future.

The robot delivery is part of a $13.38 Million Canada Foundation for Innovation/BC Knowledge Development fund grant award coordinated by the Institute for Computing, Information and Cognitive Systems (ICICS) at the University of British Columbia. Five-million dollars of that award is targeted to research in computer-guided medical procedures, and includes the two robots and medical imaging equipment.

“We are extremely pleased to be moving ahead with developing new surgical solutions,” says Dr. Chris Nguan, kidney surgeon, Vancouver General Hospital; assistant professor, Dept of Urologic Sciences, UBC Faculty of Medicine. “Our focus is on image -guided surgical therapy, meaning we will fuse preoperative imaging including MRI and ultrasound with the surgical system to allow for a 3D view both inside and outside organs during surgery.”

The VCH and UBC based robotics research program is one of only three centres worldwide to have a dedicated research da Vinci robot with both a clinical and technical research partnership with Intuitive Surgical Inc, the maker of the da Vinci robots. " "Intuitive is thrilled to be initiating this partnership with a research team that truly integrates a clinical program dedicated to advancing robotic surgery with an engineering team that has deep experience in computer-assisted medicine, robotics and medical imaging research. I very much look forward to this new research collaboration with old friends," says Dr. Simon DiMaio, manager, Applied Research at Intuitive Surgical and also UBC alumnus.

“This is an important breakthrough for us,” says Dr. Tim Salcudean, C.A. Laszlo Professor, Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering, UBC, Faculty of Applied Science. “In three-way collaboration between UBC, Vancouver General Hospital, and industry, we have put together the infrastructure to rapidly move our engineering research into clinical practice. The research robots will be used for immediate evaluation of new ideas in robotics, medical imaging, and user interfaces, followed by patient studies with the existing clinical robot at VGH.”

The robotic research program will also look at developing and fusing innovative technologies such as cellular diagnostics with the robot, which will eventually allow surgeons to see the molecular border of cancerous tumours while guiding the surgical robotic hands, which will mean improved surgical margins in cancer surgery.

“We are in quite a privileged position,” says Dr. Larry Goldenberg, head, Dept of Urologic Sciences, UBC Faculty of Medicine and Vancouver General Hospital. “There are very few centres worldwide that have both the brain power and the infrastructure to develop this type of program. We will see significant gains in new surgical therapies, the development of new intellectual property, and in the recruitment and retention of surgical fellows and bioengineering trainees.”

In addition to capital funds from Canada Foundation for Innovation and BC Knowledge Development Fund, the research program also receives operating support from the Canadian Institutes of Health Research, Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada, BC Innovation Council.

The robotics research program is supported by Vancouver Coastal Health Research Institute, UBC Faculty of Medicine, and the UBC Faculty of Applied Science.

STELLAR (Surgical Technology Experimental Laboratory and Advanced Robotics) was created in 2008 with an aim to provide a platform for medical and surgical innovation. Image guidance, cancer targeting, and improving the effectiveness of surgeons are fundamental projects of the STELLAR team. The STELLAR group has been established from cross-disciplinary collaborations with the Faculty of Applied Science, Engineering Physics, Computing Science and the Sauder School of Business. The lab is part of collaborative research grants totaling over 12 million dollars.

The Robotics and Controls Laboratory at UBC carries out research in robotics, medical imaging and computer-assisted medical interventions. With over 30 graduate students and post-doctoral fellows, the lab has secured equipment of over $6 Million dollars and operating funds in excess of $3 Million since 2008. The lab has a history of collaboration with industry and hospitals. Its technology has been licensed by several companies, in BC, Canada and abroad, and has led to two local spin-off companies. Five concurrent patient studies are carried out with BC Hospitals.

Institute for Computing, Information, and Cognitive Systems (ICICS)
ICICS is an umbrella organization at the University of British Columbia that has been promoting multidisciplinary advanced technologies systems research among its members and with industry since 1986. Over 160 members and 800 affiliated graduate students from engineering, computer science, medicine, forestry, commerce, social science, and the arts collaborate through ICICS’ programs, state-of-art facilities, and industrial contacts.


Vancouver Coastal Health Research Institute Media Contact
Lisa Carver
Senior Communications Leader, VCH Research Institute
Tel: 604.875.4111 x 61777
Cell: 604.319.7533
e-mail: lisa.carver@vch.ca

University of British Columbia Media Contact
Brian Lin
UBC Public Affairs
Tel: 604.822.2234
Cell: 604.818.5685
e-mail: brian.lin@ubc.ca