By Vimita Mohandas
SINGAPORE — It cuts surgery time for stomach cancer patients to 17 minutes from eight hours, does away with the need for hospitalisation and allows patients to undergo surgery without having to bear scars.
Called MASTER (Master and Slave Transluminal Endoscopic Robot), the new procedure was jointly developed by the Nanyang Technological University (NTU) and the National University Hospital (NUH) after six years of research.
Three patients from India were the first to benefit from the flexible endoscopy technology — possibly a world-first to be performed on stomach cancer patients, said Singapore doctors.
The procedure uses a flexible endoscope or tube with small robotic arms inserted through the mouth, with the surgeon monitoring on a computer screen.
Using joystick and buttons, the surgeon controls the robotic arms to remove the cancerous tumour in the stomach.
The robotic arms, which are up to 6mm in diameter, can also feel the tissues of the stomach and intestines, helping surgeons vary the pressure.
Associate Professor Louis Phee, head of the Division of Mechatronics and Design at NTU, said: “With this robotic system, you’re giving a lot of manoeuvrability and dexterity to the endoscopist such that he can act and perform like a surgeon. He’ll be able to manipulate tissues, he’ll be able to cut and in the near future, he will also be able to suture, which means he can actually sew inside, and that will be great for sewing up wounds inside the stomach.”
While the gadget has reaped benefits during its trial stages, experts say there is still room for fine-tuning.
Professor Ho Khek Yu, senior consultant at the Department of Gastroenterology and Hepatology at NUH, said: “Currently, we can only do procedures on early stomach tumours because the robotic arms are fashioned to do this procedure only. This procedure is challenging and needs a certain period of training. We need to adapt the robotic arms further to allow us to do more complicated procedures such as obesity surgery and anti-reflux surgery in future.”
Experts hope to see the procedure used in hospitals in about three years.