Research Overview

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Our work focuses on both basic research and translational research in the development of novel tools, imaging, and robot control techniques for medical robotics. Specifically we investigate methodologies that (i) increase the smartness and autonomy and (ii) improve image guidance of medical robots to perform previously impossible tasks, improve efficiency, and improve patient outcomes.

Smart Surgical Systems – Increased autonomy has transformed fields such as manufacturing and aviation by drastically increasing efficiency and reducing failure rates. While pre-operative planning and automation has also improved the outcomes of surgical procedures with rigid anatomy, practical considerations have hindered progress in soft-tissue surgery mainly because of unpredictable shape changes, tissue deformations, and motions limiting the use of pre-operative planning. Our research aims to overcome these challenges through:

Robotic Tools – We are developing specialized robotic tools that eliminate the need for complex motions and reduce tissue deformations and tissue changes by incorporating the maneuverability and complex actuations in the tool tip.

Improved Surgical Sensing – We are investigating novel surgical imaging techniques to enable high-fidelity quantitative perception and tracking of soft tissue targets that are in constant motion and deformation due to patient breathing, peristalsis, and tool interactions.

Robot Control Strategies – We are developing novel robot control methods that increase the autonomy of surgical robots and effectively enhance the surgeon’s capabilities.

Image Guided Interventions and Planning – Diagnostic imaging has dramatically improved over the years, where now small tumors and defects are often detectable before affecting a patient’s health. However, in many cases imaging during intervention and surgery is limited to basic color cameras, resulting in missed tumors and sub-optimal surgical results. Our research focuses on improving image guidance and image display during planning, intervention, and surgery. This often requires specialized robots to work alongside the imaging technique and novel displays.

Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) Guided Prostate Interventions – MRI has higher sensitivity in detecting prostate cancer compared to ultrasound, the current standard for image guided prostate biopsy. Prostate biopsy inside an MRI magnet, however, is difficult to perform due to material and space restrictions. We were the first to develop and deploy in the clinic an integrated robotic system for trans-rectal robotic prostate biopsy under MRI guidance.

3D Printing and Displays – Congenital heart defects (CHD) are the most common congenital defects, often require open-heart surgery, and are among the leading causes of death in newborns. Despite the rich 3D information provided by cardiac imaging, the display of this information is still largely constrained to viewing multiple contiguous 2D slices of the 3D scan, which is sub-optimal. We are developing novel methods to visualize CHD using 3D printing and 3D displays for education, procedural planning, and patient specific implant designs.