Novel Device Lets Surgeons Feel What They Can't Touch

Posted: Aug 2 2016, 2:53pm CDT | by , Updated: Aug 2 2016, 2:58pm CDT, in News | Latest Science News

Novel Device lets Surgeons Feel What They can't Touch
Credit: Yuichi Kurita, Hiroshima University

Researchers have designed a small vibrating device that can be attached to any existing hand-held surgical tool to improve a surgeon's sensitivity to different shapes and textures inside the patient's body.

During laparoscopic surgeries, surgeons rely on long, thin, metal tools to explore their patients' bodies as they can no longer use their fingers to directly touch patients to sense essential information about their organs.

When attached to a surgeon's favorite surgical tool, the vibrator called PZT Actuator begins to vibrate in the surgeon's palm at a constant rate.

In the study, volunteers were blindfolded and asked to use surgical forceps with the PZT Actuator attached to the handle to identify different textures of sandpaper and find a small Styrofoam ball inside a cup filled with silicone.

These tests mimic detecting tissue texture and identifying a solid tumor.

The results of these tests and other analysis revealed that there is a range of vibration intensity that significantly improves anyone's sensitivity, the researchers said.

The tool does not need to be fine-tuned to each user's unique sense of touch, meaning the PZT Actuator is robust and simple to use.

The device could be used instantly, without requiring extra training for doctors.

Further, the PZT Actuator also remains safe for patients because the device is only on the handles of the surgeon's tools, not inside the patient's body.

The vibrations are so subtle that they do not shake the tool. The electrical power supply is also safe for doctors and patients.

However, this constant, uniform vibration enhances the surgeon's sensitivity to other, irregular sensations.

The natural variations of touching different tissues with a metal tool may normally be too subtle for the surgeon to detect, but the constant vibrations supplied by the PZT Actuator boosts the sensation to a noticeable level.

"Typical medical tools obtain information about the patient's condition. There are very few devices that aim to enhance the doctor's skill," said lead author Yuichi Kurita, Associate Professor at Hiroshima University in Japan.

"Our next set of experiments will confirm the usefulness of the PZT Actuator in surgical situations. Before we can give this tool to surgeons, we must also develop a method to maintain good hygiene of the device so it is always safe for patients," Kurita added.

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