Vibrating Tool Add-On Allows Surgeons To ‘Feel’ What They Can’t Touch

A small vibrating device added to surgical tools may help improve the ability of the surgeon to sense details and textures of a patient’s internal organs and tissues.

AsianScientist (Aug. 12, 2016) – Engineers from Japan have designed a small vibrating device that can attach to any existing hand-held surgical tool and help surgeons ‘feel’ what they cannot touch. Details of the device were published in IEEE/ASME Transactions on Mechatronics.

During minimally invasive surgeries, surgeons rely on long, thin, metal tools to explore their patients’ bodies. Such laparoscopic surgeries benefit patients by reducing the size of surgical cuts and minimizing scarring. However, a disadvantage is that surgeons can no longer use their fingers to directly touch patients to sense essential information about their organs.

“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 Associate Professor Yuichi Kurita from Hiroshima University.

The vibrating device, called the PZT Actuator, attaches to a surgeon’s surgical tool and vibrates in their palm at a constant rate. The vibrations are so subtle they cannot be sensed. However, this constant, uniform vibration enhances the surgeon’s sensitivity to other, irregular sensations which may normally be too subtle for the surgeon to detect with a metal tool.

In an experiment, volunteers were blindfolded and asked to use surgical forceps with the PZT Actuator attached to the handle. They were tasked with identifying different textures of sandpaper and finding 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 analyses revealed that there is a range of vibration intensity that significantly improves anyone’s sensitivity. Furthermore, the tool does not need to be fine-tuned to each user’s unique sense of touch, meaning the PZT Actuator would be robust and simple to use.

According to Kurita, before surgeons can start using the device, the researchers will look into ways to maintain good hygiene so that it is always safe for patients.


The article can be found at: Kurita et al. (2016) Surgical Grasping Forceps with Enhanced Sensorimotor Capability via the Stochastic Resonance Effect.

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Source: Hiroshima University.
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