By Kathleen Berger
Minimally invasive surgical techniques require methods and instruments that are small. When combined with robotic surgery, Gregory Ward, M.D., performs procedures with precision and flexibility.
As assistant professor at Saint Louis University Department of Otolaryngology – Head & Neck Oncology, Ward helped SSM Health Saint Louis University Hospital become the first in the region to offer a flexible robotic system. The less invasive surgery is called the Flex Robotic System, essentially robot-assisted surgery, by Medrobotics.
“I’m making the instruments do what I would want to do if I were a tiny robot inside someone’s throat,” said Dr. Ward. “The platform is designed to be used through any natural opening in the body. “
Medrobotics described the FlexRobotic System as having the ability to navigate complex anatomy through a single, small entry point while operating in hard-to-reach anatomical locations that might otherwise be inaccessible with straight, rigid surgical tools. The surgical instruments access the body through the mouth, as well as entering the anus and rectum.
Medrobotics markets the Flex® Robotic System as the first and only robotic surgical platform providing ScarfreeTM access to hard-to-reach anatomy in otolaryngology, colorectal and gastroenterology procedures.
Dr. Ward is using the Flex Robotic System forreaching tumors in the head and neck. He said the robot-assisted surgery is a less invasive option, opposed to a traditional procedure which may require follow up reconstruction.
“If I have to open the jaw, or go through the throat, burrowing through the outside to get to the inside, that’s a significant amount of muscle you have to cut through, that’s only getting cut because it’s in the way of doing the cancer operation,” said Ward. “Increased risk of infection, increased pain. Certainly anytime you cut through bone it’s going to hurt. It changes their outcomes in terms of how quickly and how well they get back to swallowing.”
For patients with laryngeal cancers, for example, surgeons can now insert a single, fully flexible robotic arm into the mouth and control the machine with a joystick-like device and foot pedal. The wider range of motion allows for access to tumors previously unreachable without a large open incision. Ward said the system’s high-definition cameras and 3-D glasses allows him to operate using a high-definition screen.
“Doing it with high-definition, with these little instruments developed specifically for the robot,” explained Ward. “Cancer surgery is never fun. I’m constantly thinking I’ve got to do this right. It’s certainly nice to get the view I can with this.”
He said the new technology allows him to clearly see what can be done and what the future holds. Ward said the Flex Robotic System approach may be the answer for many patients who have tumors within reach.