What kinds of technology will you find in the operating room of the future? Professor Esther Consten needs a bit of time to think about the most concrete example. Navigation technology is one that opens up a lot of possibilities. We all use Google Maps, or whatever kind of navigation system is built into our cars. The same technique has to be incorporated more in the entire process surrounding the operating rooms, Esther thinks. Don’t just think about self-driving hospital beds that can transport a patient to the OR. The added value of navigation technology is mostly found in combining it with big data: the static images of MRI and CAT scans could be modified using augmented reality to move along in real-time during surgery. Currently, as soon as a surgeon turns or removes tissue during a surgery, the images taken while the patient was lying still on its back are no longer accurate. If you have plenty of images, you can make use of image fusion: by combining these images extremely precisely, a surgeon could navigate towards the edges of a tumor in greater detail.
Within HTRIC, Esther Consten, Raffaella Carloni and Schelto Kruijff are the figureheads of the theme Operating Theatre of the Future. It fits her like a glove, says Esther. As a professor in Robot and Computed Assisted Surgery, she wants to bring innovations from outside of the hospital into the medical world and to patients.
HTRIC could be a great environment to improve the findability of all the available in-house knowledge. But also to establish much-needed links with the industry.
Esther is not starting from scratch. These past few years, she has already established many ties between teachers and professors working on the operating room of the future. It is a collaboration between the Faculty of Medical Sciences, the doctors and medical specialists in the hospital, and the engineers and technically engaged such as the bio-engineers from the Faculty of Science and Engineering. When she first arrived, there was a lot of room for improvement. It was not yet the case that Groningen was the minimally invasive surgical centre of the Netherlands. She got the chance, as professor in Robot and Computed Assisted Surgery, to implement her knowledge using a new scientific team. In the W.J. Kolff Institute for Biomedical Engineering and Material Science, a new branch of robot surgery was established. Esther represents the clinical user: the translation between technology and the workplace of medical specialists.
“If you can entice investors and the industry for a project like HTRIC, you can truly build something beautiful.”
She is already a linchpin, so what is it that HTRIC can still add for her? If you can entice investors and the industry for such a project, you can truly build something beautiful, she says. The techniques are already available, so in theory you could perform surgery in such a different, futuristic environment in just five years. But naturally, the financial reality always acts as a break. A large joint venture of experts working together will achieve more in approaching the industry and politics. It is not just about getting knowledge and innovation here, but also about including people that are able to get politicians and investors to the table. Perhaps not necessarily from the kick-off of HTRIC, but definitely in an early stage.
To move HTRIC forward, the associated parties need to give it a realistic framework. Some sort of roadmap that needs to exude all kinds of multidisciplinary knowledge that Groningen has, and the possibilities that it offers. The high-quality technical university that we have in the city, the cooperation between the UMCG and researchers, including those of the UTwente: it is something to be proud of. Be brave, make it known, spread the word and show what you are doing, she emphasises.
Using curiosity to work on solutions and to create an impact. That is how practical you have to approach the matter, if it is up to Esther Consten. Do not linger on just painting far-fetched futuristic images, but work very concretely on the operating room of the future. That also includes imaging in the pre-operative phase and the entire process of aftercare. If she is to name one specific issue: will it be possible to develop robot technology to such a detailed degree that it will be able to warn the surgeon during the surgery? Up until now, this technology has only had a supporting role, not a correcting one. Will it be possible to develop good tactile feedback? How amazing it would be if Esther can work on realising her dream of a perioperative decision platform thanks to the cooperation within HTRIC.
“A large joint venture of experts that approaches industry and politics together will be more successful.”
Navigation technology, augmented reality, image fusion: it is a lot of techniques that have to be brought together into one platform. That is highly complex, but it is possible, is Esther’s conviction. If she is looking forward to one thing, it is the continuing cooperation with engineers in the field of technical medicine. “They have a completely different way of thinking than medical staff. Half of what these engineers say is incomprehensible to medical staff and vice versa. It would be great to find the connection and work together towards a beautiful product, notwithstanding these differences. HTRIC can be the driving force behind this.”
Prof. dr. Esther Consten is a professor in Robot and Computer Assisted Surgery. Her fields of expertise include:
She is also the chair of the national Working Group of Coloproctology (WCP), the co-editor of the Journal of Robotic Surgery and involved at the Kolff Institute.