First robotic heart operations in the southern hemisphere

Monash University Department of Surgery staff have made history by performing the first robotic heart operations in the southern hemisphere.

Senior lecturers Mr Aubrey Almeida and Mr Randall Moshinsky, both experienced cardiac surgeons, have performed more than a dozen operations in the past few months using the da Vinci Robotic Surgical System -- a highly sophisticated device that allows complex operations through a 4 cm incision.

After being the first Australian cardiac surgeons to train using the robotic surgery system at East Carolina University School of Medicine in the US , the Monash surgeons are now using the $3 million device at the Epworth Hospital in Melbourne .

The system consists of a high-resolution 3-D telescope and two robotic arms that are inserted into the patient through small incisions. The surgeon performs the operation by controlling fine instruments at the tips of the robotic arms while seated at a console away from the operating table. A second surgeon is at the operating table at all times.

Cardiac surgery has traditionally been performed through a long cut through the breast-bone, which offers good exposure to the heart but comes at the expense of prolonged discomfort, pain and scarring. The da Vinci system minimises the intrusion into the body and means complex surgical procedures can be conducted through spaces between the ribs.

Robotic-assisted cardiac surgery dramatically improves patient outcomes, including shorter hospital stays, less post-operative pain, less risk of infection, less scarring and faster recovery.

Mr Almeida said patients who had undergone robotic surgery were being discharged in half the time they would be after conventional open heart surgery.

The head of the Monash University Department of Surgery, Professor Julian Smith, said the groundbreaking technology opened doors for the establishment of a cross-faculty robotic surgery institute focused on further developing the technology in Australia .

Professor Smith has discussed the proposal, including applying for a State Government Science, Technology and Innovation Grant, with members of the Faculty of Engineering and the Faculty of Information Technology.

"The benefits of setting up such an institute would far outweigh initial costs," he said.

" Monash University is in an ideal position to take this exciting technology forward."

The da Vinci Robotic Surgical System, sold in Australia by Device Technologies, is a descendant of a US Department of Defence project in the 1980s to create a robot that would allow surgeons to operate on critically wounded soldiers from a safe distance, or even perform emergency surgery on astronauts.

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