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Home >  News >  January, 2011

The Touch, the Feel of Laparoscopy

A protoype laparoscopic grasper with feedback technology in the handle improves surgeons' tactile sensation.

Published: January 31, 2011

For all its innovations — smaller instruments, fewer holes, high-def video — laparoscopic surgery hasn't been able to fully replicate the tactile feel a surgeon has when grasping and cutting tissue during open surgery. At least, not yet.

Enter Eleonora Westebring-van der Putten, a researcher at Delft University of Technology in the Netherlands. For her PhD thesis, the industrial designer and human movement scientist developed a prototype for a laparoscopic grasping instrument that augments and sends tangible feedback from the tip of the grasper to the handle to give the surgeon a more accurate feel for his movements.

"There are sensors in the tip of the instrument that measure how hard the surgeon is grasping," explains Ms. Westebring. That information then travels back to the handle, turning it into a force feedback device, also known as haptic technology.

For example, if the surgeon grasps tissue too loosely, a cylinder located in the handle will "roll," giving the sensation of something falling out of the surgeon's hand. If he grasps too hard, vibrating elements in the handle let the surgeon know he needs to let up. "We also take the type of tissue into account," says Ms. Westebring. "After all, it makes quite a difference whether you are grasping an intestine or working with a liver."

The feedback device would primarily be used for training purposes, says Ms. Westebring. "By training with feedback, surgeons learn to control their laparoscopic force more quickly."

Irene Tsikitas

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