Modern Day Operation

I used to hate playing Operation. So much stress. So much pressure. My hand used to be shaking as I gently guided the tweezers into the Operation board. And right as I grazed the board and the buzzer went off and the board started shaking, my hands would fly into the air. That is when I knew I did not want to be a surgeon. I felt that if I couldn’t even play a surgeon board game then I probably wouldn’t be too great at the real thing. But times are changing and now I’m having second thoughts about my potential as a surgeon. And I can thank those thoughts to Memic, a startup company developing a robotic-assisted surgical platform.

In fact, Memic, who recently received marketing authorization from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), also just received $96 million in their Series D funding round. Prior to that, they had raised a total of $31.8 million in funding. Now one might ask, “Rich, if there is a robot who does surgery on me, why do I need the surgeon there?” Well, the robot is not self-sufficient. It is shaped like a human arm, and controlled with a remote device by the surgeon. Essentially, the surgeon is playing a video game with a robot inside of you and is conducting surgery by doing so. Pause… Where are we on the creepy vs cool scale right now? For me, we’re a leaning towards the creepy side.

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Memic’s Hominis

This device is something on the horizon though, and not something you will probably have used on you for the next couple years. Currently, it is only certified to be used during one procedure, described as, “single site, natural orifice laparoscopic-assisted transvaginal benign surgical procedures including benign hysterectomy.” So, if you don’t need that surgery, then you will not have access to Hominis, which is what Memic calls their platform. But fear not, for Dvir Cohen, co-founder and CEO of Memic thinks that won’t be the case for long, “The Hominis system represents a significant advancement in the growing multi-billion-dollar robotic surgery market. This financing positions us to accelerate our commercialization efforts and bring Hominis to both surgeons and patients in the months ahead…”

Memic is not the only company with a product in this market though. Companies in the computer assisted surgical systems market, such as Asensus Surgical and ForSight, have already received FDA clearance for certain procedures, as well as tens of millions of dollars in funding. And while Memic’s Hominis is the first and only robotic device approved for benign transvagional procedures, the founders and investors see this as just the beginning. Eyal Lifschitz, the managing general partner at Peregrine Ventures, one of the main investors in Memic, stated, “Given the broad potential of Hominis combined with a strong management team, we are proud to support Memic and execution of its bold vision.” His statement gives insight into where they believe the company is headed, as this is a completely untapped field, and one that has great potential for widespread use in society.

Standing at $3.91 billion in 2017, the global robotic surgery market is forecasted to reach $13.27 billion by 2025. That accounts for a compound annual growth rate of 16.6% during that time, which is very encouraging. But in order to truly understand where the market is headed, one must understand where the market has been. In 2000, the da Vinci surgical system was the first robotic surgery system approved by the FDA. The da Vinci surgical system just completed its 1000th surgery last week, and it approved now for a combination of urological surgeries, general laparoscopic surgeries, general non-cardiovascular thoracoscopic surgeries, thoracoscopically-assisted cardiotomy procedures. Over the years, the da Vinci surgical system has adapted and evolved with the times, and essentially has created a blueprint for success for other companies and products to follow.

Robotic Prostate Surgery - History
The da Vinci surgical system

The fact that the da Vinci has had such success bodes well for new companies in the market, looking for investors. But those companies will hope not only to get where da Vinci has gone, but to go even further. Every day the world is constantly digitizing and becoming more efficient. AI and human intelligence are being continuously interwoven into society, on all fronts. Humans are trying to eliminate the aspect of human error from many daily tasks… driverless cars, Alexa ordering groceries, drones dropping off deliveries for Amazon; all examples of where the world is heading… and heading fast.

Thanks to Moore’s Law, technology is increasing at a rapid rate, and it may be sooner rather than later that you go in for a surgery and they are using a robot to do all the manual labor. And with the limitless potential for the future market of surgical robots, I may be willing to not only risk my life on one, but also to risk my money, because I think these things are going to be a home run. And I think these doctors will be better than I was, when playing Operation.

https://techcrunch.com/2021/04/12/memic-raises-96m-for-its-robot-assisted-surgery-platform/?tpcc=ECTW2020

https://www.roboticoncology.com/history-of-robotic-surgery/

https://www.globenewswire.com/news-release/2020/06/01/2041374/0/en/Robotic-Surgical-Procedures-Market-to-Reach-USD-13-271-6-Million-by-2025-Rising-Demand-on-Account-of-New-Applications-in-Robot-Assisted-Surgeries-says-Fortune-Business-Insights.html

6 comments

  1. abigailholler1 · ·

    I’d have to agree with you, Rich, I’m not sure I would want a robotic arm performing surgery on my brain. One malfunction or wrong move, and things could go south pretty quickly. But on the contrary, if I’m having a pretty routine surgery, maybe I’d actually want a robot whose completed the surgery thousands of times, and might have more accuracy than a human. I think that the use of robotics for surgery could have some unique second order impacts on insurance in the healthcare industry. For example, if a surgeon uses a robotic tool to complete surgery, can they be held liable for malpractice if something were to go wrong with that piece of equipment? Will insurance companies need to change policies to cover the use of robotics in operating systems? It will certainly be interesting to see how the use of digital tools will change the landscape in healthcare beyond the profoundly positive impact they will have on patient outcomes.

  2. therealerindee · ·

    I am all for robotics in surgery. I have had the amazing opportunity to see someone practice on the da Vinci, and it’s pretty extraordinary. I’m not sure we will ever get to a place where the robot is not controlled by a licensed surgeon since the malpractice, as Abigail noted, would be an absolute nightmare. Robotic arms are able to make incisions and work in the human body in ways human fingers cannot, so I foresee this technology continuing to be invested in and improved upon. The benefits of robotic surgery range from less blood loss and smaller incision sites to overall shorter hospital stays, and where there is money to be saved by insurance companies/hospitals there will be large adoption of this technology.

    1. courtneymba · ·

      Great article! And Erin, that’s so cool you saw a da Vinci in practice! I agree with you that robotics can offer some advantages in terms of dexterity. It also seems like there’s an opportunity to access certain surgeries less invasively. I’m all for it too – as long as there’s human intervention. Even though the overall success rate of AI surgeries may potentially be higher than human counterparts, it crosses over to the creepy-domain to think of an AI only surgery.

  3. lisahersh · ·

    Very interesting topic, Rich! For certain surgeries, I think I might even prefer to have a robot do it rather than a human. I remember seeing a picture floating around social media a while back of two surgeons laying on the floor of an operating room after a 32 hour brain surgery (https://www.zmescience.com/other/great-pics/brain-surgery-photo/). While it’s beyond impressive that they were able to do that I would be really nervous about having absolutely exhausted doctors poking around in my brain. Even though robots will require licensed surgeons be present as Abigail and Erin pointed out, I feel like it would be a lot less emotional/psychological and physical strain on the surgeons as your operation example illustrates.

  4. Scott Siegler · ·

    This is a great example of humans partnering with tech to minimize the possibility of human error while preserving human analysis and decision making. It’s exciting to continuously learn new ways that this is happening, and hopefully improving safety and quality of life for everyone. I wasn’t aware of how far along development was with robot surgeons, so this was actually really exciting for me to read! I appreciate you shedding light on a really cool topic that is also very relevant to course material.

  5. changliu0601 · ·

    Interesting post!!!I’ve seen robotic technology is applied to help the disables to stand up again.But for surgery, I will not let robot give me the surgery. I am afraid the spilling of my blood would short-circuit him and make him out of control.Some crazy imagination. I’m inclined to accept a psychological treatment from a robot.

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