Dr. Mark McKenna provides an update on robots in medicine

Robot in China completely performed dental implant surgery

We’ve all used robots in surgery, but here’s a new twist. In China, a robot dentist has installed two dental implants autonomously – with no help from humans. Human doctors were supervising the procedure, but they did not intervene at any point.

During the surgery, the robot followed a set of pre-programmed commands to install the dental implants. Experts said that the implants were fitted within a margin of error of 0.2-0.3 mm—matching the standards required for this type of procedure, according to the state-run Science and Technology Daily. The surgery took place in the city of Xi'an.

Before the surgery, the robot was first oriented to the patient's head and mouth. Then researchers programmed the robot with necessary information for the procedure, including angles and depth required to accurately place the implants, explains Dr. Mark McKenna.

They tested these movements, collecting data and making adjustments. Then the woman was given a local anaesthetic and surgery began. As the patient moved during surgery, the robot was able to make adjustments.

During the hour-long surgery, the medical staff monitored the procedure but none assisted the robot while it worked. The staff evaluated the procedure afterward, concluding that the robot had implanted the teeth with high precision.

The robot combines dentists’ expertise and the benefits of technology, and can avoid problems caused by human error, says Dr Zhao Yimin, the mainland’s leading oral rehabilitation specialist who works at the hospital. Robots are especially effective in narrow space like the oral cavity, as they can be more agile and accurate, say Chinese dental experts.

China has a severe dentist shortage, with 400 million patients needing new teeth, but only one million are performed each year. With the delays, patients often see less qualified dentists, resulting in greater dental problems. Robotics are also being used in performing root canal surgeries and in student training.

Yomi, a robot system designed to assist dentists in dental implant procedures, was approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration in March.

Robot masseuse in Singapore

Human touch is evidently not an integral component in therapeutic massage. A robot masseuse named Emma has started work in Singapore, specialising in back and knee massages. The robot mimics the human palm and thumb to replicate therapeutic massages such as shiatsu and physiotherapy, reports Dr. S. Mark McKenna.

Emma “sees” patients at the NovaHealth Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) clinic, working alongside human colleagues – a physician and a massage therapist. Her real name is Emma 3.0, and is more compact than her predecessors, yet offers a wider range of massage programs.

Her massage is described by patients as almost indistinguishable from a professional masseuse.

Emma uses advanced sensors to measure tendon and muscle stiffness, together with Artificial Intelligence and cloud-based computing to calculate the optimal massage and to track a patient's recovery over a course of treatments.

Emma was developed to address workforce shortages and quality consistency challenges in the healthcare industry, explains Dr. Mark McKenna.

Using Emma in chronic pain management has the potential of creating low-cost treatment alternatives in countries where healthcare costs are high, and where aging populations have a growing demand for such treatment.

Emma was designed to deliver a clinically precise massage according to the prescription of a qualified traditional Chinese medicine physician or physiotherapist, without the fatigue faced by a human therapist.

Emma is expected to improve the efficacy of such massages, using herbal ointments containing modern ingredients that improve wear and tear, such as glucosamine.

Robotic leg brace to help paralyzed people walk

A wearable robotic leg brace has been designed to help partially paralyzed people walk, says Dr. Mark McKenna.

The device is made up of a motorized mechanical frame that fits on a person's leg from the knee down. It’s designed to be worn on one leg at a time for patients severely paralyzed on one side of the body due to a stroke. The patients can practice walking wearing the robotic device on a special treadmill that can support their weight.

Toyota Motor Corp. has developed the device, and expects to rent these systems to medical facilities in Japan.

In a demonstration of the brace, a patient strapped it to her thigh, knee, ankle and foot and then showed how it is used to practice walking on the treadmill, explains Dr. Mark McKenna. Her body was supported from above by a harness and the motor helped to bend and straighten her knee. Sensors in the device monitor the walking and adjust quickly to help out. Medical staff control the system through a touch panel screen.

Given how common paralysis due to strokes is in fast-aging Japan, Toyota's device could be very helpful. Patients using it can recover more quickly as the sensitive robotic sensor in Welwalk fine-tunes the level of support better than a human therapist can.

The field of robotic aids for walking and rehabilitation is growing quickly, adds Dr. Mark McKenna. A battery-powered wearable exoskeleton made by Israeli manufacturer ReWalk Robotics enables people relying on a wheelchair to stand upright and walk.

Both Toyota and Welwalk plan to apply robotics in medicine and other social welfare areas, not just entertainment. The company also has an R2-D2-like machine, called the Human Support Robot, whose mechanical arm can help bed-ridden people pick things up.

"Our vision is about trying to deliver mobility for everybody," said Isobe. "We have been developing industrial robotics for auto manufacturing, and we are trying to figure out how we can use that technology to fill social needs and help people more."

Honda Motor Co.'s Asimo humanoid can run and dance, pour a drink and carry on simple conversations, while WelWalk is more of a system that uses robotics than a stand-alone robot.

About Dr. S. Mark McKenna

  1. Mark McKenna, MD, MBA is a Medical Doctor licensed in Surgery and Medicine by the Georgia and Florida State Board of Medical Examiners. He is a passionate patient advocate and a dedicated community servant.

Dr. Mark McKenna is currently a member of Entrepreneurs Organization and he has previously served as a board member of the New Orleans Jazz Festival and the New Orleans Industrial Development Board.


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