Intuitive awards grants to support training of its da Vinci robot using virtual reality

The da Vinci surgical system--Courtesy of Intuitive Surgical

Intuitive Surgical ($ISRG), famous for its da Vinci robotic surgery system, just awarded 5 U.S. medical centers a one-year grant to advance training of robotic-assisted minimally invasive surgery using virtual reality.

The winning institutions are The University of Rochester Medical Center, University of Virginia School of Medicine, University of Nevada School of Medicine, University of Maryland School of Medicine and University of Miami, Sylvester Comprehensive Cancer Center.

They will each receive the da Vinci Surgical System Surgeon Console and Skill Simulator to supplement existing training programs. "Research suggests that surgeons who train using virtual-reality simulation technology improve their skills and efficiency," said Intuitive Chief Medical Officer Dr. Myriam Curet, in a statement. "The goal of this program is for the skills surgeons develop during simulation practice to translate to actual surgery and improved patient outcomes in robotic-assisted surgery."

More than 50 institutions applied for the grant.

"As the da Vinci Surgical Systems emerge on the forefront of minimally invasive surgery, validation of safe training curricula for residents, fellows, and practicing surgeons will have to be sought with careful, scientific rigor," said Dr. Shawn Tsuda, associate professor of surgery at the University of Nevada School of Medicine. "This grant enables forward-looking programs to develop best-practices for integrating robotics into surgical training."

The moves comes soon after a FDA meeting on robotic surgery, during which proper training techniques were discussed. Intuitive said the timing of the grants was not related to the event. Last year's grant recipients were Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center, Duke University, Oregon Health & Science University, University of Texas Southwestern and Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis.

The learning curve of robotic surgery is considered one of the device's drawbacks, for it disadvantages patients who receive an inexperienced user of the da Vinci. But doctors and the FDA agreed that used appropriately, robotic surgery can simplify some procedures, especially those involving the use of sutures, and lead to improved outcomes for patients.

With nearly 600,000 procedures performed using the device in 2014 (up from 200,000 in 2009), da Vinci is transforming patient care in some surgical specialties, like urology and gynecology procedures, which account for about three-quarters of that volume.

Although other companies market devices as providing robotic surgery, the FDA said that the da Vinci is the only currently approved device that meets its definition of a robotically-assisted surgical device, but expects competitors to file applications for approval soon.

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