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June 15, 2023

WPI researcher awarded $600K to develop surgical robots

Photo | Courtesy of WPI Worcester Polytechnic Institute researcher Loris Fichera

The National Science Foundation awarded Worcester Polytechnic Institute Professor Loris Fichera $599,663 to develop robots to treat disease without touching human tissue.

“Existing surgical tools that use focused energy, such as lasers and radiofrequency or ultrasound probes, work by heating and destroying tissue,” Fichera said in a June 7 press release from WPI. “The next generation of energy-based surgical robots needs to evolve to better perceive and monitor the impact of heat on body tissues so that surgeons can conduct minimally invasive operations more accurately and without causing damage to healthy tissue.”

Fichera will use his prior experience developing a robotic laser probe for less-invasive larynx surgery for this project, which improves methods for evaluating how much focused energy is needed to safely destroy tumors in the body. 

The five-year project will create research opportunities in his laboratory for up to 60 WPI undergraduates and expand a graduate-level course on surgical robots, according to the press release.

“Robotic systems that use focused energy have the potential to transform surgery from procedures that use mechanical forces to cut and stretch tissue into something that no longer involves blood and incisions,” Fichera said. “With a new theory of how robots can interact with their surroundings, we will empower the next generation of surgical roboticists to improve human health.”

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