Haptic system could give keyhole surgeons sense of touch

Written by: Laura Hopperton | Published:

A system devised by fourth year engineering students at the University of Leeds has been designed to give surgeons a sense of tactile feedback when using keyhole and remote techniques.

The students' solution, which could enable a medic to handle a tumour robotically, and judge if it is malignant or benign, combines a computer generated environment for virtual surgery and a handheld device that applies pressure to the users' hand. What the user feels depends on how hard they are compressing the virtual tissue.

The team members first set up the system to simulate keyhole surgery on the liver. They gathered measurements from a soft block of silicon to simulate what surgeons would 'feel' during keyhole procedures and fed these into their handheld device. They tested the system by embedding hard ball bearings in the artificial, silicon liver and checking whether users could find them.

"This system might help surgeons to become more accurate in theatre," said engineering student, Earle Jamieson. "Haptic devices that give users sensory feedback are becoming more common in surgery, but none of them quite match that true hands on feeling. With our system, users can interact with the tissue they are operating on throughout the surgical procedure."

"Judging from the feedback the students have received from practising surgeons, this system has real, clinical potential," added Dr Peter Culmer, a senior translational research fellow in surgical technologies, who supervised the work. "In the short term, it could be used as a training tool to help surgeons get a feel for keyhole surgery - quite literally. Looking further ahead, systems such as this could become used in operating theatres on a daily basis."

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