3D Printed Robot Provides Lifelike Simulation for Japanese Medical Students

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It’s really incredible how lifelike medical training models are getting. Advanced technology like 3D printing and robotics are allowing for the creation of models that look, feel and even respond like actual human beings. Rather than having to pretend that stiff plastic is human skin, or that a cadaver is a living person, medical students can now practice surgeries and sutures on 3D printed silicone that feels like real skin or organ models that are so realistic they even bleed.

Now a pair of institutions in Japan have developed a lifelike robot designed for medical students to practice intubation and endoscopy procedures. The robot is named Mikoto, which means “life,” and it’s an accurate name – I definitely jumped when its eyes snapped open at the beginning of the video below.

Mikoto was designed by Tmsuk R&D, in partnership with Tottori University Hospital, specifically for three procedures: endotracheal intubation, in which a patient’s airway is opened by inserting a tube into the windpipe through the mouth or nose; gastrointestinal endoscopy, in which the stomach or other internal organs are examined with a camera attached to the end of a thin tube; and sputum suctioning. These are tricky procedures that require extreme care, and while more Japanese medical training programs are beginning to incorporate simulation in addition to textbook learning, most simulation models don’t give students a feel for working with a real patient. For one thing, most of the models are stiff and have mouths that are difficult to open, meaning that students often become accustomed to handling patients too forcefully.

Mikoto is different. Digital images were taken of the tongue, esophagus and windpipe of an actual patient from the hospital, and the images were used to 3D print replicas of the organs in a flexible rubber-like material. A sensor is attached inside the robot’s throat so that if too much pressure is applied, it cries “itai!” (“ouch!”) It also has a gag reflex.

“Due to rapid advances in medicine and medical technologies, the skills and tasks medical professionals need to learn have diversified,” said Dr. Toshiya Nakano, a neurologist at the university’s faculty of medicine. “Young doctors used to learn the ropes gradually by observing senior doctors at work and then trying their hand at operating on actual patients. Such styles of training are no longer acceptable. Ensuring patient safety is a top concern.”

There are two models: a full-body model used for all three procedures, and a partial model for practicing intubation alone. Mikoto also has sensors that record data during each practice procedure, including how long it takes. Each student is then given a score at the end of the procedure, based on the recorded data. This is a big step forward – a supervisor can watch a student perform a procedure, but can only evaluate what they can see. The sensors can record everything a patient would feel during the procedure – without having to subject an actual patient to the potential mistakes of an inexperienced surgeon.

The robot is one of 30 medical devices currently under development in Tottori Prefecture, which is one of the fastest-aging and most quickly depopulating prefectures in Japan. The region wants to build itself up as a technology hub and eventually export its products overseas, and has worked to set up several collaborations between university hospital doctors and local manufacturers. The government has offered seed capital for medical products it sees as promising.

“The stereotypical views of Tottori have been that it’s a place of hot springs, sand dunes and crabs — a remote place,” said Hiroya Kitano, a Tottori University director. “Many people think it has nothing to do with cutting-edge medical technology.”

That’s changing thanks to products like Mikoto, and Kitano believes that the prefecture can set an example of what can be accomplished with collaborations between industry and academia. Discuss in the 3D Printed Robot forum at 3DPB.com.

[Source: Japan Times]

 

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