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New technology will enhance the quality of medical care in Canada

New technology will enhance the quality of medical care in canada

Members of the NEEMO 9 scientific team observe as Dr. Mehran Anvari performs a remote telesurgery on a simulated patient in the underwater Aquarius Habitat off the shores of Key Largo, with Canadian Space Agency and NASA astronauts present

The Centre for Surgical Invention and Innovation (CSII) is making progress in the field of robotic surgery, and they credit the Centres of Excellence for Commercialization and Research (CECR) program with helping to translate the research into a marketable product.

The IGAR (Image Guided Automated Robotic) device consists of a control module which interfaces with imaging software connected to up to 6 robotic arms. The device uses Canadian technology and Canadian research findings in image guided research to provide automation and some intelligent decision making in the field of robotic surgery, and allows the surgery to be performed remotely.

While robotic surgery is being performed in countries worldwide, the IGAR robot is unique because it is a multi-platform system, which can be evolved for many applications. It also increases the level of intelligent decision making currently available with this type of technology. As well, the device is multi-functional: for cancer diagnosis and treatment, for example, imaging technology pinpoints the location of the tumor, and the IGAR robot translates that information into three-dimensional coordinates to a specific location on the body, and begins biopsy and eventually treatment.

Dr. Mehran Anvari, Professor of Surgery at McMaster University and Scientific Director and CEO of CSII says that automated systems of this kind are the next big step in surgical innovation. “There are so many applications,” Anvari says. “These include spinal surgery, cancer diagnosis and treatment and minimally invasive surgery.”

Anvari credits the Networks of Centres of Excellence’s CECR program with bridging the sometimes fatal gap between research and commercialization, and allowing CSII to commercialize the IGAR technology.
“What goes into the commercialization process is very different than what goes into the research. We had received grants to look at research questions. Lots of grants allow you to do research, however none of them fund some of the necessary steps in commercialization: legal components; IP; development of a prototype; and testing of a prototype. Research can be good but not necessarily commercially viable.”

Anvari says that while most granting agencies were not designed to apply the results of research, the CECR program is structured differently.

“CECR fills an essential gap in translating research at the university level into something for everyday life. The program complements other research avenues. As a researcher, there are many avenues of funding available, but few avenues for commercialization. The CECR program helps to capitalize on Canada’s investment. Technology plays a big role in healthcare. This is an important step. Canadian technology will put Canada in the lead in this field.”

CSII has decided to make the first commercial application of this technology the early detection and treatment of cancer. Lianne Stefurak, Executive Director of CSII, says that cancer was chosen because of the many improvements that can be made through increased accuracy in surgery. “We’re looking at the area of biopsy and ablative treatment,” she says. “This is still an area to be improved.” Breast cancer, specifically, is one of the key areas of interest for CSII. It is the most prevalent cancer in the female population, and over 25% of new cancer cases diagnosed are breast cancer. “Advances in this area will have an immediate impact on the health of patients,” Stefurak says. Targeted biopsy retrieval will make the procedure more accurate, and allow treatment to begin sooner, significantly improving wait times.

Industrial partner MacDonald, Dettwiler and Associates Ltd. (MDA), developers of the Canadarm, bring a superior level of robotic expertise to CSII. “MDA’s knowledge and performance in space robotics was used directly to create the IGAR robot,” Stefurak says. The company’s “extensive knowledge of automating tasks allowed for a high degree of specificity in the development of this technology”.

One of the most exciting advantages to this technology is that it will allow regions across Canada to have equal access to surgical care. “Remote parts of Canada could have the same access as big cities,” Anvari says. Automation also enhances productivity of existing staff, minimizes costs, reduces errors and decreases the more mundane elements of the treatment itself.

The development and testing of this technology are early steps on the path to commercialization, though Stefurak admits that the process is not always smooth. “There are rather large potholes that prevent you from moving forward with any kind of speed,” she says. CSII must ensure they meet with all Health Canada regulations, and are currently seeking clinical feedback to validate the proof of concept and refine the design with people who will, hopefully, use the technology in the future. After this prototype development, the next stage for the centre is bench testing, where the device is put through its required movements to ensure safety and accuracy.  The centre hopes the IGAR robot will then be ready to begin human testing in the next 18 months, and commercialized in the next three to five years.

Without commercialization, Anvari explains, much of the important research performed may never go farther than the lab. “I hope the CECR program will continue. Without it, a lot of research is wasted. When research does not see the commercial light of day, there may be no benefit to Canadians.”

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