Vanderbilt Engineers Building Robots For Minimally-Invasive Lung Surgery

NASHVILLE, Tenn. - Bouncing back from surgery is no easy task. But what if a robot could make an incision so small, you'd barely notice it? The next generation of medical robots are being built right here in Nashville.

They come in all shapes and all sizes, and one day medical robots could help the surgeons of the future perform minimally invasive procedures. 

Robert Webster is a Professor of Mechanical Engineering at Vanderbilt University. He says engineers are problem solvers. They actually spend time in operating rooms asking doctors what would make their lives easier.

"So we'll actually take engineers into the OR and we'll watch what is going on and talk to the doctors about what went well for them, what didn't." he said. 

Right now, Webster and PhD students, like Patrick Anderson, are working on a robot to specifically for lung surgery. 

"It's been really fun to work on such a new concept. This sort of robot really hasn't been built before," said Anderson. 

Robots like this one are designed to work around a patient's rib cage.

"The lung is a really hard area to reach because it's this enclosed cavity and the only way to get in there is to pull the ribs apart," said Webster. 

The arms are attached to thin wire-like needles that would allow a surgeon to work inside the lungs without making any large incisions

Some of these designs are years away from use while others are close to market. Either way, Webster insists robotic engineering is an industry on the rise. 

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