Academic and industry partners launch medical robotic and technology centre at UCLA

Los Angeles 30 August 2002In a unique academic and business partnership, the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA); Computer Motion Inc.; Karl Storz Endoscopy-America Inc. and Berchtold Corporation, have opened a new robotic and technology centre at UCLA. One of the first of its kind in the United States, the new centre will help promote clinical, educational and research use of surgical robots and digital imaging in surgery and medicine.


The new centre, a minimally invasive surgery think tank, is called CASIT, the Center for Advanced Surgical and Interventional Technology. The partners have created an environment for industry, innovators in minimally invasive surgery and advanced operating room technology, and scientists to work together to fuel robotic and imaging research and development to further define the operating room of the future.

CASIT has several facets which include a hands-on robotic demonstration lab called the Gonda/UCLA Robotic Surgery Center; the UCLA Minimally Invasive Surgical Lab; and the Surgical Education and Resource Center. In addition, CASIT will lead the development of a new high tech operating room and CASIT is also a key part of the California NANO Systems project (CNSI).

The 2500 square foot CASIT centre, housed at UCLA Medical Center, will feature the Gonda/UCLA Robotic Surgery Center, funded with a significant gift from the Leslie and Susan Gonda Goldschmied Foundation and the Gonda Family Foundation. The lab provides for development of new minimally invasive procedures and technologies while delivering hands-on robotic training for medical residents, faculty and surgeons from local, regional, and international communities.

Integration of computer and communications technology into CASIT's operating room laboratory will enable UCLA's doctors to train and educate worldwide. CASIT will include a dedicated state-of-the-art video conferencing facility where doctors can mentor and teach surgeries taking place anywhere in the world through telemedicine.

"We believe that CASIT will help to shape and influence how surgery is performed in the next decade through this innovative research collaboration that will benefit generations to come", stated Dr. E. Carmack Holmes, professor and chairman of the UCLA Department of Surgery.

Researchers at CASIT will develop and plan an all-digital operating room for the future to be used in the replacement UCLA Medical Center slated for opening in 2005. This new surgical unit will be a 100.000 plus square foot "interventional platform", where the surgical, including 23 new operating rooms, interventional radiology, cardiac catheterisation and endoscopy suites will be situated side-by-side.

CASIT will also house offices for industry partners. The ability to take a concept immediately into an on-site lab for testing will help make technology development easier and more efficient. UCLA and its partners will jointly develop commercially viable products produced at CASIT. Monthly research meetings will help drive collaboration.

The business partners will help the new centre bring tele-surgery and more advanced minimally invasive techniques to the forefront of medicine. In addition, the companies will help advance minimally invasive surgery techniques to surgical areas still using more traditional methods, such as cardiothoracic and neurosurgery. UCLA will provide hands-on surgeons in the lab setting, making developments from the lab to the bedside quicker.

The first projects at CASIT include new diagnostic and treatment tools for neuroscience, pulmonology and urology, as well as a new robotic surgical training system. For example, CASIT will help develop an advanced laparoscopic method for removing the prostate gland, a procedure now performed using traditional open surgery.

"We will always be looking ahead, to try and find out what the next surgical advancement is after laparoscopy", stated Dr. Peter Schulam, co-director CASIT, chief Endourology and Laparoscopic Surgery at UCLA, and associate professor of urology.

The advent of minimally invasive surgery and development of advanced techniques will continue to benefit patients as well, according to Dr. Carlos Gracia, co-director CASIT, chief Minimally Invasive Surgery at UCLA, and associate professor of surgery. "Laparoscopic surgery offers improved outcomes for patients with shorter recovery times as a result of reduced pain and trauma. Robotics will enable more complex procedures to be performed in this manner and will be the technology allowing us to train and mentor more surgeons in these procedures."

Education and surgical training may also improve with CASIT. According to Dr. Holmes, collaboration among surgeons is traditionally difficult because each surgical speciality operates very autonomously. "Surgical training will become more efficient with all disciplines from urologic to neurosurgery learning the same robotic techniques and skills at the new centre", stated Dr. Holmes. The Surgical Education and Resource Center at CASIT will offer continuing education, seminars and classes for physicians and other health care professionals.

Other collaborators at CASIT include the University of California, Santa Barbara; the UCLA School of Engineering and the California NANO Systems project (CNSI). Nanosystems research at CASIT will create diagnostic devices and technology that are molecular in size. A nanometer is a billionth of a meter. These tiny tools will help identify gene expressions that cause disease in the body such as identifying cancerous cells or malfunctioning organs.

A new generation of biomaterials, artificial organs and diagnostic devices will then be developed to permit minimally invasive surgical repair of diseased and damaged organs. An additional lab at CASIT, called the UCLA Minimally Invasive Surgical Applications Lab, will help house this research.

Leslie Versweyveld

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