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Tech meets medicine: CMR Surgical is making robots for surgeries, storing patient data in glass platters

CMR Surgical Robots

It has been over 50 years since someone first came up with the idea of using robots in medical surgery. The implementation, however, only began in the late 1980s, about 40 years ago. Medical robotics were essentially developed in response to challenges related to minimally invasive surgery (MIS) technologies, especially touch- and force-related responses. In simpler words, we needed something that could replicate movements like the human hand and wrist during surgeries.

Today, the use of robots in healthcare is on the rise, and CMR Surgical is well known for the same. The company recently raised 600 million dollars in Series D funding and according to their official website, the funding will be used to increase accessibility to keyhole surgery across the world. At present, CMR has launched Versius in Europe, Australia, India, and the Middle East. 

The UK-based company first released the Versius system in 2018, earning praise as the next-gen surgical robotic system to the Intuitive Surgical’s da Vinci for its size, portability, and versatility. The Versius is designed to be used by surgeons in the present-day operating room and consists of three independent arms that can be controlled by a surgeon. It allows for accurate colorectal or gynaecological surgery. Since it is portable, the Versius robot can be easily transported to different parts of a hospital. Further, in the theatre, it takes just about 15 minutes to set it up.

Image: CMR Surgical

Aside from producing surgical robots, CMR Surgical also calls itself a digital company. In the same vein, it has collaborated with Microsoft in a different area—data storage. Procedure-related clinical data carried out using the CMR Surgical Versius robot is now being stored on a tiny glass platter, a proof-of-concept device that is being developed under Microsoft’s Project Silica trial.

Project Silica is a Microsoft Research project that makes use of the latest discoveries in ultrafast laser optics and artificial intelligence to save data in quartz glass. The technology is made to store data safely for over 10,000 years. It also allows for the preservation of surgery data, including procedural videos and critical telemetric information. In the long run, CMR aims to use this data for future training and clinical studies.

When asked about how exactly is the data fed into the glass platter, CMR Surgical technology director Luke Hares told Medical Device Network, “A fairly high-power pulse laser is used in very short durations to write the data in voxels, three-dimensional form, into layers on the glass. Then they read that back and use machine learning algorithms to identify the patterns of data that they read back.”

Hares added that the data is physically engraved into the three-dimensional structure of the glass, giving it physical robustness and making it so interesting. Elaborating on the kind of data that would be stored, Hares said, “…we want to keep track of the clinical outcomes of every surgical procedure performed on the platform and ideally how it was used in those procedures as well. That gives us a great deal of security and knowledge that should anything, anywhere, not be going as well as it should, we can step in at the earliest possible opportunity to sort it out.”

Many companies are also using technology and artificial intelligence (AI) to increase access to healthcare services and, in turn, enhance patient outcomes. Massachusetts-based PathAI, for instance, develops technology that can assist pathologists in making speedy diagnoses. Similarly, San Francisco-based Enlitic leverages proprietary algorithms—they solve specific problems that translate into actions—to improve diagnoses. The company analyzes loads of healthcare data sources to achieve this as well as to enhance drug trials and research. Another well-known startup in the sector is the biotech company Freenome. It focuses on developing non-invasive disease screening products to treat cancer and other diseases at their most manageable stages.  

The pandemic also saw a rise in telemedicine services that essentially use technology to make diagnosis remotely and easily accessible to those in need. Since many countries experienced prolonged periods of lockdown, this sector especially flourished as doctor consultations and diagnosis were made possible through the internet. As a result, mobile- and web-based telemedicine applications such as Doctor on Demand, Amwell, MD Live and Babylon Health earned a good reputation in the past year. Some of these firms, such as Babylon Health, are also working towards making healthcare more affordable across the globe.

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