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Aichi hospital to launch training center for robot-assisted surgery

Chunichi Shimbun

Robots are increasingly being used in cancer surgeries nationwide.

The da Vinci Surgical System, equipped with various instruments including scalpels, is the robot of choice.

Fujita Health University Hospital in Toyoake, Aichi Prefecture, will launch a training center this spring to develop the skills of doctors to perform robot-assisted operations.

It will be the first of its kind in Japan. The center will receive surgeons from medical institutions around the country that have already installed the da Vinci and provide opportunities for them to observe it in practial use and to learn surgical techniques.

The U.S.-made robot is equipped with an endoscope, scalpels and forceps attached to the tips of its articulated arms. The surgeon controls the instruments through high-definition 3-D images.

The system is designed to be minimally invasive, requiring few and small incisions. Compared with conventional abdominal surgery, the da Vinci minimizes the burden on the patient, resulting in a speedier recovery.

These benefits have prompted a growing number of hospitals to adopt the system. There are currently about 40 installed in medical institutions around Japan.

The government has certified the system as “highly advanced medical technology” for prostate cancer operations, allowing patients to use health insurance.

On the other hand, a man died while undergoing a da Vinci-assisted operation for stomach cancer in Nagoya University Hospital in September 2010. The cause was identified as lack of training by experienced doctors and understanding of the robot’s characteristics.

Last summer, the Japan Society for Endoscopic Surgery recommended the introduction of robot-aided operations, calling for medical professionals to receive training from robot makers and for medical teams to observe the da Vinci in full clinical use.

However, there were no training facilities in the country and Japanese surgeons had to receive training in South Korea, which performs the most da Vinci-assisted operations in Asia.

Fujita Health University Hospital has reached an agreement with the system’s developer, Intuitive Surgical Inc., to host the training center in Japan. Headed by professor Ichiro Uyama, a leading surgeon versed in gastrectomies using the da Vinci, the training center will allow doctors to observe clinical surgeries and practice on dead pigs.

“We can train Japanese doctors by having them see the robot used in actual conditions as well as by teaching surgical techniques so they can acquire the necessary skills in an efficient manner. The center is geographically located at the heart of Japan, so I hope to receive doctors from hospitals across the country,” Uyama said.

This section, appearing Saturdays, features topics and issues from the Chubu region covered by the Chunichi Shimbun. The original article was published Jan. 5.