Robot-assisted surgery is a hot space, dominated by large machines that resemble their automated, automotive-assembly-line ancestors: Large craning arms, industrial hydraulics with an array of tools, all hunched over an operating table.
But a newly spun-out medical device company from the University of Nebraska, Virtual Incision, is looking to change that.
The company, based out of both Pleasanton, Calif., and Lincoln, Neb., is developing a much smaller robot for minimally invasive surgeries, designed to operate from the inside out. The new, smaller robotic system is inserted through a single abdominal incision, where it works entirely within the body of the patient.
CEO John Murphy spoke to MassDevice.com about Virtual Incision’s drive to change robotic surgery, as well as a recently raised $11 million to fund their efforts.
“The companies that have come before have done an amazing job pioneering the field of robot-assisted surgery. We think it’s here to stay, and there are a lot of well-known benefits to it. But we felt that, rather than mainframe-like robots, much smaller devices could allow much greater access and are much better suited to general surgery. So we really focused on building a general surgery platform, where the surgeon can be close to the patient,” Murphy told us.
Virtual Incision wanted to create a robot-assisted surgery platform that would work for surgeons, instead of making surgeons work for it, and designed its system to be transportable, wireless-accessible and easy to use, he said. That smaller size will also make it a cheaper option than its larger competition, Murphy added.
“We feel like this is a simpler technique. We think with the mobile approach, we will get a much better cost benefit, just from the nature of the size of the device, much how a mainframe computer is much more expensive than a tablet,” Murphy said. “We felt like this was a unique and foundational way to move forward to the next gen of these types of devices.”
While the device is being designed for general surgery, Virtual Incision is focusing on putting it to use in colon resections. The company said today that it raised an $11.2 million equity round, with the proceeds slated for a feasibility study of the device for colon resections.
Over 2 million colon resections are performed each year globally and roughly 66% of these are performed via an open surgery, which involves an 8- to 12-inch incision and up to 6 weeks of recovery time, Virtual Incision said. Although laparoscopic colon resections are available, only 33% are done that way – something Murphy thinks could be due to the complicated learning curve for laparoscopic operations.
“Manual laparoscopic surgery is often is performed with reverse mirroring. You have to move left to turn right, and vice-versa. You have to shift your camera around, and get your instruments, and your port, and it can be a very hard process to learn,” he explained.
With Virtual Incision’s robotic platform, however, a high-definition camera is perched between the arms of the device, perfectly triangulated with the instruments. Murphy said that this more intuitive setup will make for an easier learning process.
“You can always see your instruments, much the same way you can see your hands in front of your face. It’s a very simple approach, where left is always left and right is always right. It’s an intuitive approach to driving the device,” he said.
The company believes that the minimally invasive robotic approach for colon resection will also reduce patient pain, scarring and hospital stay time, Murphy added.
A feasibility study is slated to begin sometime in the 4th quarter and into the 1st quarter next year, Murphy said. Moving forward, the company will look to another round of financing to help work toward CE Mark approval in the European Union and 510(k) clearance in the U.S., he said.
“The benefit here is around shorter stays, less pain, faster recovery, fewer resections. It’s these types of healthcare outcomes that we’re focused on, to really enable this and to enable the physician to tackle much more broadly a minimally invasive approach to procedures like colon resection. We’re really looking forward to pushing towards the next generation of robotic surgery devices,” Murphy said.[vimeo 134755302 w=700&h=400]
Here’s a look at the Virtual Incision robotic system in action.