January 19, 2018 11:55 pm CST
A Robot That Cuts into Your Body
By Alex Koyfman, Wealth Daily


Would you let a robot operate on you?

When it comes to building cars, cleaning carpets, or even helping the Army dispose of improvised explosive devices, robots have built for themselves the reputation of fearless, tireless laborers.

But surgery?

It's a scary prospect for most people, not because robots haven't proven to be capable of precision but because human touch — specifically the touch of a skilled surgeon — is what we're accustomed to when it comes to lifesaving medical procedures.

As the son of a doctor, I've always believed there are certain things machines simply cannot be trusted to do.

Medicine, as an art form and a discipline, is one of them.

But today, that paradigm is rapidly changing.

Just last week, a Minnesota patient by the name of Kimala Walters became one of the first people to go under the electronic knife in an operation on her knee.

The procedure, dubbed Makoplasty, involves partially resurfacing the kneecap as a treatment for arthritis.

However, because it's done by a machine and not the hands of a doctor with a traditional saw, the operation is far less painful and allows for a much shorter recovery time than the traditional approach.

The $1.5 million machine, called the Robotic Arm Interactive System, or RIO, is built by MAKO Surgical Corp. (NASDAQ: MAKO) specifically for the purpose of partially automating knee and hip replacements.

makorio

Guided by lasers and super-precise motors, the machine can make cuts up to eight times more accurately than the human hand can — drastically reducing trauma to the affected area and subsequent pain during the recovery period.

Goodbye to Arthritis in Half the Time

In the case of Kimala Walters, who suffered from moderate arthritis, not only was the bone minimally affected by the procedure but the incision to access the knee was also half the usual size of eight inches.

Dr. Robert Hartman, the orthopedic surgeon who carried out the procedure, estimates that Ms. Walters will achieve 80% to 90% recovery in as little as two weeks after the operation, with full recovery coming in just under a month...

Less than half the time patients normally need with the non-assisted traditional method.

“It’s a little bit like playing a video game,” Dr. Hartman quipped. “I’m sure my kids would be better at this than I am.”

But don't let this doctor's levity in the matter make you think robots like the MAKO RIO will ever completely replace physicians.

The robot, like any other device in the operating room, is just a tool used by doctors to make their jobs easier and the ordeal of the patient less painful.

Just like the scalpel, the syringe, the X-Ray, and every other technological achievement that helped to make modern medicine what it is, robots like these assist but do not replace.

All medicine starts with observation and diagnosis — something no machine in existence can do with the same skill as an experienced physician... at least not yet. 

Executing precise cuts, however, is a different matter; when guided by the mind of a doctor, there simply is no comparing the relatively inaccurate human hand with the micrometer-precise servos of an infrared, laser-guided robotic extremity.

Knee and hip replacement surgeries are serious, but on the spectrum of medical procedures, they do not compare with operations on the heart, spine, brain, or vascular system.

In those procedures, the cost of a slip-up is often severe injury to the patient or even death — making the addition of robotic precision not a matter of if but when.

Expanding Their Specialties

Already, robots specializing in more involved procedures are coming of age and into common usage around the world.

The da Vinci Xi, a product of Intuitive Surgical, Inc. (NASDAQ: ISRG), can be programmed to do hysterectomies or prostatectomies — both lifesaving (and life-threatening) surgeries.

davinciXI

And at Vanderbilt University, a robot that's been under development for five years will be able to operate on the hippocampus — an area just above the brain stem — through an incision in the cheek.

So do doctors have a reason to fear? I wouldn't think so. A robot can no more perform a surgery unassisted than a robot at an automobile plant could design and build a car without the help of an engineer.

What they do give us is the accuracy of modern microprocessors — something any modern surgeon would accept willingly for the sake of the patient and his own career.

More precision will equal fewer mistakes, fewer infections, and, yes, fewer lawsuits.

So while many of us may be technology-fearing Luddites, the only truly rational fear of these devices should be coming from malpractice lawyers.

Robots have proven to be valuable tools indeed, and with each passing week, it seems they're infiltrating deeper and deeper into the fabric of our society.

But understanding where this trend will go next isn't as easy as it sounds. For that, you need to be an expert on where it came from and where similarly disruptive technologies have gone in the past.

My colleague Jason Stutman has been studying this question for years. A few weeks ago, he published a report detailing his findings and outlining a roadmap for where robotics will go in the future.

The robot may well be as big a deal as the automobile or the airplane once was in terms of changing the status quo.

And with billions in venture capital flowing into the industry annually, you'll get an insider's insight as to where the best bets are, too.

Don't wait to read about this in the Wall Street JournalGet immediate access to his free report right here.

Fortune favors the bold,

alex koyfman Signature

Alex Koyfman

Coming to us from an already impressive career as an independent trader and private investor, Alex's specialty is in the often misunderstood but highly profitable development-stage microcap sector. Focusing on young, aggressive, innovative biotech and technology firms from the U.S. and Canada, Alex has built a track record most Wall Street hedge funders would envy. Alex contributes his thoughts and insights regularly to Wealth Daily. To learn more about Alex, click here.

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