Cardiorobotics, Developer of Snake Robot Technology, Aims to Alter Cardiac Surgery

8/6/09

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Intuitive Surgical (NASDAQ: ISRG), a company Straface calls “the mother of all robotic companies” for surgery. What makes the robots developed by Cardiorobotics different from Intuitive and others is that its snake robot has a multi-link design allowing it to maneuver in any direction and angle, Straface says. It is also self-supporting and doesn’t need to rest its weight on a surface in the body while it moves.

“It has an incredible degree of freedom of movement,” Straface says. Other robotic probes of its type can go only in a straight line, requiring surgeons to use several probes. The Cardiorobotics approach, which uses “serpentine robotics,” should be less invasive because it only needs one incision, Straface said.

Treating atrial fibrillation and other kinds of heart arrhythmia is done either by a cardiologist or a cardiac surgeon depending on the procedure, Straface says. The treatments are based around creating scar tissue that block unhealthy electric impulses—the cause of many irregular heartbeats. But the best success rate comes from using surgery to access the heart and apply the energy needed to make the lesions. Working outside the heart “has been demonstrated by cardiac surgeons to be highly effective, and the current gold standard in treatment, especially for patients with more chronic disease,” Straface said. The current cure rate is about 90 percent.

But, as mentioned above, this treatment requires opening the breastbone to get at the heart and comes with all the concerns associated with open-heart surgery. For that reason, the surgery is usually only done in conjunction with other necessary heart surgery rather than as a stand-alone procedure. For those atrial fibrillation sufferers who have an early, non-persistent version of the disease (about 22 percent), treatment usually comes from cardiac electrophysiologists, who try to create the necessary scar tissue, but that technique has a lower rate of success than the surgical approach, especially long-term, Straface says.

Using the snake robots from Cardiorobotics would ideally allow the more successful type of treatment to be done without having to crack open a patient’s chest or involve the heart-lung machine to keep the patient alive during surgery, he says.

Each disposable snake robot, which will come in different sizes, will be connected wirelessly to a feeder box that is plugged into a console that either a cardiac surgeon or cardiologist will use to look through the camera eyes of the snake as they guide it through the body and perform the procedure. Although he would not reveal the cost of manufacturing the device or its price, Straface did say the product will be market competitive. Cardiorobotics may lease some of the hardware to hospitals and sell the disposable robots, Straface says. The total potential market is between one and two million people a year just in the United States, Straface says, so there is a lot of potential for profit, he says. “We’re already in development on the commercial product,” he says.

Eric Hal Schwartz was an intern in Xconomy's Seattle office. Follow @

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