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Friday
Oct282011

Open Heart Surgery of the Future

Jupiterimages/Thinkstock(SAN DIEGO) -- More than half a million people in the U.S. undergo heart surgery every year. It has become a common and mostly successful surgery, where surgeons open the chest wall to get to your heart, cutting through the upper part of a patient’s breastbone to get there.

For the past 75 years these surgeons -- many who now do more than one surgery a day -- have been using an ancient-looking hand crank that winds open the chest, bit by bit -- a tool that requires some muscle by the surgeon.

Chuck Pell, the chief scientist at Physcient, a new surgical device company based in Research Triangle Park, N.C., talked to ABC News while at the 2011 TEDMed Conference on innovation in science and medicine. He explained that not only is the hand crank technology just plain old, but the cranking can really damage the tissue in the chest wall. A surgeon can break the sternum or ribs, damage cartilage or cause long term back pain.  

So Pell’s company set out to solve this problem.  Physcient has created a motorized retractor, i.e., a robot, to open the chest wall that a surgeon operates from a hand-held battery-powered controller. The device creates a smooth movement so that it is a lot less damaging to the chest tissue.  Pell describes it as “anti-lock brakes” for chest retraction.

As the chest opens, the smart device senses when the tissue is tearing and stops until the tissue settles. The prototype is currently on an iPhone interface and seems very simple to use (meaning it won’t require surgeons hours of training like many other robotic- surgery-assist tools). But that’s not the way the product will be presented in operating rooms. Pell says that Apple actually discourages the medical community from using the iPhone during surgery because it doesn’t believe the phone is precise enough for something so important.  

As for the cost, Pell said it would run a hospital about $500 per use, but he anticipates a huge cost savings by not having to treat other problems that arise from potential tissue damage in the long-term. The device still has a way to go -- it has only been tested on pigs. Sheep are next, and then, finally, humans. It will be about 18 months before the robot is submitted to the Food and Drug Administration for approval.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio







ABC News Radio