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Improving Surgery through Robotics

Revolutionizing abdominal surgery through robotics is the aim of Virtual Incision Corp., a faculty-led company that joined Nebraska Innovation Campus in early 2016.

Colorectal and lower gastrointestinal procedures are among the fastest-growing surgeries in the U.S. Virtual Incision is developing an advanced miniaturized robot that shows promise for colon resection, a procedure used to treat diverticulitis, large colon polyps, precancerous and cancerous lesions of the colon and inflammatory bowel disease. The goal is to make procedures less invasive, improving patients’ recovery and shortening hospital stays.

Virtual Incision was founded in 2006 as a partnership between UNL’s Shane Farritor, Lederer Professor of Engineering, and the University of Nebraska Medical Center’s Dmitry Oleynikov, professor of surgery. In 2012, chief executive officer John Murphy joined the team. Locating at NIC gives the company room to grow and attract talented experts in engineering, robotics and medicine from across the country.

Robotics Business Review named the company’s minimally invasive robotic device “a game changer.” A large percentage of colon resections are performed through open surgery, requiring an 8- to 12-inch abdominal incision. Existing robotic surgical tools have limitations for complex procedures, including colon resectioning.

Virtual Incision’s robotic device is inserted into the abdomen through an umbilical incision, with a surgeon controlling the robot. A monitor and control device gives surgeons a wide view of the surgical site and allows precise movements of surgical instruments. The robotic device is designed to be compatible with surgeons’ existing tools and techniques and can be used in a standard operating room. This approach could be much less expensive than robotic alternatives.

The first human surgery with these robots was successfully performed outside the U.S. in January 2016. Verifying the technology’s safety and feasibility is a key step toward obtaining Food and Drug Administration approval for commercialization.

“To the best of our knowledge, this is the first time an active miniaturized robot has performed complex surgical tasks with the robot inside a living human, which is a significant milestone in robotics and in surgery,” said Farritor, the company’s chief technology officer.


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