Robots doing brain surgery: CEO describes the latest in medical AI

Asia's Tech News Daily

The development of the Moderna (MRNA) coronavirus vaccine relied on it. The early discovery and modeling of COVID-19 outbreaks depended on it. And new drugs for the disease benefited from it.

Artificial intelligence played an unsung role in the global pandemic response, drawing attention to the growing use of the technology across medicine.

In a new interview, Medtronic (MDT) CEO Geoff Martha — whose company produces high tech medical devices — described the latest in medical artificial intelligence, including robots that perform brain surgery and “self-driving surgical robots” that operate without the aid of a doctor.

“Patients love it,” Martha says. “They like the idea of cutting edge technology. You know, people are always looking to get better outcomes, and they associate technology with that.”

“What's more … advanced technology than a robot,” he adds. “So you're seeing robotics in surgery quite a bit.”

In October, Medtronic gained approval in Europe for Hugo, a surgical robot that assists physicians with a host of operations, such as gynecology and urology procedures. Months earlier, in June, the company announced the first successful operation performed with the device at a hospital in Santiago, Chile.

“It's what they call a soft-tissue robot,” Martha says. “So it's not cutting into bone.”

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Medtronic marks the second major company to bring such a device to market, after a similar product from competitor Intuitive Surgical, Martha said.

Supply chain disruptions amid COVID-19 have slowed the rollout of the Hugo, Martha noted on an earnings call last month. “We're off schedule, but we're not off track,” he said on the call. He predicted a “strong ramp” for the company's robotics program in fiscal year 2023.

The company produces two other surgical robots: one for spine procedures and another for brain surgery, Martha told Yahoo Finance.

“We have a spine robot that actually does back surgery and orthopedic surgery,” he says. “Then we have a cranial robot for tumor resection and other procedures in your brain.”

Martha, who became Medtronic CEO last April, joined the company in 2011 after two decades at General Electric (GE).

A robot helping medical teams treat patients suffering from the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) is pictured at a patient’s room, in the Circolo hospital, in Varese, Italy April 1, 2020. REUTERS/Flavio Lo Scalzo

Speaking to Yahoo Finance, Martha forecasted robots that will operate both with and without assistance from doctors.

“First, you're going to have real-time feedback to the surgeon so some of the robots are surgeon-assisted where they're going with a joystick — the surgeons driving looking at a computer screen driving the robot.”

“Pretty soon you're going to see AI come and say, 'Look, Mr. Doctor, so and so you know, you're going Dr. Jones, your next move should be this, you should make sure you don't cut this, make sure you stay away from that.”

“So we're heading that way pretty quickly,” he adds. “I think you're going to have self-driving surgical robots.”

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