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Under the Robot’s Knife

Yael Schuster

Robots operating on humans through tiny holes in the body — it sounds like something out of a science fiction novel. But it’s happening now, and it’s saving lives. The case for, and against, robotic surgery.

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

On September 7, 2001, science fantasy and reality melded into one. A 68-year-old woman lay on an operating table inStrasbourgUniversityHospital in easternFrance. Forty-five minutes later, her gallbladder was successfully removed by her surgeon, Dr. Jacques Marescaux. The twist: Dr. Marescaux performed the surgery from a console 3,800 miles away, in a room in a nonmedical building onManhattan’sSixth Avenue.

The implications of Operation Lindbergh’s success, out of a city more known for its medieval cityscape than for futuristic scientific breakthroughs, are startling in their limitlessness. Imagine patients in remote locations worldwide operated on by the best in their fields, from world-class hospitals. Picture wounded soldiers on the battlefield, in crude field hospitals, mended back together by top-notch surgeons continents away. Think surgeons on Earth, patients in outer space. These are the dreams robotic surgery weaves.

Although widely practiced in operating rooms across the globe, robotic surgery is still in its infancy, having received approval from the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) only 13 years ago. As the surgical landscape continues to evolve, this question is yet to be answered: What role will robotics play in the surgery of tomorrow?


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