Team takes robots to heart
A team of UH researchers are using a $1.4 million grant to collaborate on the development of innovative technology that would streamline cardiac surgeries.
The grant from the National Science Foundation was awarded to Nikolaos Tsekos, associate professor of computer science, and a team of researchers in UH’s Medical Robotics Laboratory.
The team is going to use the money to develop technology that would assist surgeons in minimally invasive image-guided cardiac surgeries that can be performed on a beating heart without disrupting its natural motion.
“Multimodal Image-guided Robot-Assisted Surgeries (MIROS) is a complex system of hardware and software that will allow surgeons to enter the patient’s chest through a small incision and using streaming MRI images, guide a flexible robotic tube to the area in which you will perform the surgery,” Tsekos said.
“The surgeon can then deploy the tools needed for the procedure via the tube, and during this maneuvering the software continuously advises the operator to follow the optimal path in order to minimize trauma to the patient.”
Each member of the MLR team is working on different components of the MIROS system’s hardware and software. At the core of the system is a powerful and complex software developed by graduate students Erol Yeniaras and Nikhil Navkar.
“The computational core of the system entails the development of a completely novel approach for pre-operative planning and intra-operative guidance based on real-time magnetic resonance images,” Yeniaras said.
Navkar and Yeniaras are developing dedicated software modules to process MR images into a three -dimensional virtual environment in which the surgeon can operate safely.
The goal of the software is to create safe trajectories for the robot to deploy inside the dynamic organ/tissue (like the heart) and provide communication for the different components by managing all the information flow within the system, so as to be able to make adjustments on-the-fly to better suit particular conditions as they evolve.
Graduate students Johann Lamaury, Nickolas von Sternberg and Yousef Hedayati are developing the surgical robot that will be used.
When completed, the surgeon or cardiologist will be able to use the software to view the procedure on the virtual environment screen and maneuver the robot around delicate tissues and organs using a joystick. The custom force-feedback joystick, developed by Atilla Kilicarslan, helps guide the surgeon and reduces the possibilities of operator error.
Currently MIROS is focused for use in patients needing a heart valve replacement, Tsekos said. However, the technology is being built on a platform that is both modular and upgradeable so it can be restructured for other types of surgeries.
Before the MIROS system finds its way to patients, it must undergo rigorous testing.
To reduce the need for experimentation on animals, the other portion of the grant is being used to fund the creation of a phantom heart.
The cardiac phantom will consist of 27 different motors that will mimic the anatomy and motion of a beating heart.
The MIROS technology will then be tested in the Medical Robotics Lab on the phantom heart to ensure its safety and success.
Tsekos expects the MIROS technology to be fully operational and available for patients in approximately two years.
The remaining team members include professors Ioannis Kakadiaris, Zhigang Deng and Shishir Shah from the University’s Computer Science Department; mechanical engineers Karolos Grigoriadis and Javad Mohammadpour, a group of surgeons from The Methodist Hospital Research Institute; and UH graduate students.