In open surgery, surgeons are able to directly access soft tissue/organs and perform manual palpation to understand the texture, size, consistency and location of soft tissue areas. Stiffer areas than the surrounding tissue might suggest the presence of tumours. Through vision and, most importantly, tactile sensation of the surgeons’ fingertips, surgeons are able to accurately localise unhealthy tissue areas by distinguishing cancerous soft tissue from healthy tissue, and remove tumours. Open surgery has been increasingly replaced by Minimally Invasive Surgery (MIS) from the mid-1980s and by Robot-assisted MIS (RMIS) from 2000. Surgical instruments are introduced through small incisions ranging from 3-12 mm into the human body to perform surgery. Though RMIS has many advantages over open surgery, including improved therapeutic outcome, shortened postoperative recovery, less immunological stress response of the tissue, reduced tissue trauma, lower postoperative pain, and less scarring, current robotic systems do not provide any type of sensation (haptic feedback) to the operating surgeon. The lack of direct palpation can lead to insufficient tumour excising resulting in an increased rate of biochemical relapse and influence decisions about future treatments such as additional surgery and radiation.
The aim of this project is to intuitively provide surgeons with soft tissue stiffness information when performing soft tissue palpation during RMIS. The successful candidate will work in a vibrant team at the Soft Haptics and Robotics Lab at University College London. She or he will design, model, fabricate and validate a stiffness sensor that can measure soft tissue stiffness which will be integrated into the da Vinci Research Kit.