Doctors from New York-Presbyterian Hospital and Columbia University Medical Center are using tiny, tool-laden snakebots in surgical procedures in order to help identify diseases and perform operations. Equipped with cameras, forceps, and other pieces of equipment, the human-controlled snakebots are able to go where surgeons cannot.

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Columbia University Medical Center has a long history combining surgery with robotics. In 2001, the hospital performed the first robot-assisted atrial septal defect repair heart surgery in the US, and then in 2002 they became the first hopsital to oversee a robot-assisted coronary artery bypass surgery.

The snakebots are the next step to creating nanobots that doctors hope can be injected into patients, giving them the range they need to cure any ailment. However, for now, the snakebots are helping in surgeries on hearts, prostate cancer, and other diseased organs.

Speaking to the Associated Press, Dr. Michael Argenziano, the Chief of Adult Cardiac Surgery at New York-Presbyterian Hospital and Columbia University Medical Center in New York said: “It won’t be very long before we have robots that are nanobots, meaning they will actually be inside the body without tethers.”

While the idea of a robotic snake might send a shudder down your spine, Dr. Argenziano is eager to point out the benefits. “It’s like the ability to have little hands inside the patients, as if the surgeon had been shrunken, and was working on the heart valve,” he said. “The robot is a tool. It is no different in that sense than a scalpel. It’s really a master-slave device.”

As you’d expect from a precursor to nanotechnology, the snakebot is incredibly tiny and complex with its head less than the size of a 10 cent coin. Its size not only allows it to create minimal damage to the patient, but makes it more efficient as well. Instead of putting the patient through a complex surgery, an incision is made and the snakebot is inserted. It is then directed to the specific area of the body.

Of course there are drawbacks to the technology, namely cost. Unsurprisingly, smaller hospitals cannot afford to buy and maintain the robot, but Argenziano points out that it is merely a tool and not a ‘magic cure’. “The robot is good at certain things and it’s not good at other things,” he said.

With such advances in the medical industry, nanobot surgeons are surely only a decade away.

+ Columbia University Medical Center

Via USA Today (AP)

Image: Medical team via ShuttestockArmy Medicine