By Kim Hachiya, University Communications
A prototype surgical tool designed by Hallbeck and a team of undergraduate and graduate engineering students, in collaboration with physicians at the University of Nebraska Medical Center, promises to be better than current models. Called the IntuiTool™, it’s an articulated grasping tool that can be used by surgeons performing minimally invasive surgeries. Often called laparoscopic or keyhole surgery, it is done through small incisions using specialized techniques and tools, miniature cameras with microscopes, tiny fiber-optic flashlights and high definition monitors.
Laparoscopic surgery, the fastest growing surgical technique, was developed about 1990, said Dmitry Oleynikov, assistant professor of surgery at UNMC. While this surgery has definite patient benefits—including faster recovery and less risk of infection—there are downsides for surgeons, including the tools they must use. “Current tools are essentially regular surgical tools on a long stick,” Hallbeck said. The handles look like toy scissors and are “one size fits all.” The tools also are commonly right-handed, forcing lefties to adapt.
Because the tools can grasp, but not rotate inside the body, surgeons manipulate the tools outside the body, often using both hands, forcing surgeons to hold the tools awkwardly and often causing stress and fatigue in the hands, arms and shoulders.
Hallbeck said many surgeons report numbness, tingling, pain and other problems when doing these surgeries. Over time, this repetitive stress could cause permanent damage. Because of pain or fatigue, surgeons might have to stop during a surgery to rest before resuming the task, lengthening the surgery. Training for the surgery is intensive, as surgeons must learn to work using long tools inside the body while watching a video monitor that shows the procedure in two dimensions. The breakthrough in the IntuiTool™ is in the articulation function—the grasper end rotates up to 120 degrees side to side using a roller ball the surgeon actuates using a thumb.
“Essentially, the IntuiTool™ gives you a wrist on the tool,” Hallbeck said.
Hallbeck said that while an articulated tool was a high priority for surgeons, the “holy grail” for laparoscopy tools would allow the ability to distinguish tissue textures.