Intuitive Surgical receives FDA clearance for its lung cancer biopsy robot

Robotic surgery giant Intuitive Surgical has received an FDA clearance for its minimally invasive lung cancer biopsy system, which features a thin, articulating catheter designed to snake its way through the airway to the periphery of the organ.

Famous for its multiarm da Vinci surgical robot, the company’s new endoluminal Ion platform is designed to retrieve tissue samples from suspicious lesions in the lung that may be difficult to access.

The Ion’s robotic-assisted catheter, only 3.5 mm in diameter, can articulate 180 degrees in any direction and pass a biopsy needle through tight bends while maintaining some flexibility. The system can also be equipped with other biopsy tools such as forceps or cytology brushes.

“The Ion system represents Intuitive’s continued commitment to innovating for minimally invasive care and extends our focus beyond surgery,” said CEO Gary Guthart. Intuitive Surgical plans to begin rolling out the system in the U.S. in the second quarter of this year.

The system also employs fiber-optic sensor technology, which details the precise shape of the length of the catheter for the surgeon throughout the procedure. It is designed to integrate into existing lung nodule biopsy workflows, along with a suite’s imaging hardware including fluoroscopy, ultrasound and CT.

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The device is similar to the Monarch lung platform being developed by Auris Health—itself founded by Intuitive’s founder, Frederic Moll, and recently the subject of a $3.4 billion acquisition offer from Johnson & Johnson. Auris’ system was first cleared by the FDA in March 2018.

In addition to performing lung nodule biopsies using an articulated catheter, Auris’ Monarch system also plans to employ microwave ablation technology, being developed with J&J subsidiary NeuWave medical, to detect and treat possible cancers through the same procedure.