£6m ultrasonic surgery project is launched

Ultrasurge, a research project, led by the University of Glasgow, aiming to find new ways to use ultrasonic tools for complex, robot-assisted surgery which has received more than £6m in funding from the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC), started on the November 1st.

A team of clinical and engineering researchers will develop miniaturised ultrasonic tools delivered deep into the human body by the tentacles of surgical robots. This will enable new minimally-invasive surgeries, offering high precision, low force, low temperatures, and better preservation of delicate tissue structures. Ultimately, this will allow more procedures to be carried out in out-patient clinics or with day surgery.

EPSRC has granted £6.1m for the University of Glasgow to lead ‘Surgery enabled by ultrasonics’. Over the next five years, the Universities of Glasgow, Birmingham, Edinburgh, Leeds and Southampton will work together to take advantage of the opportunities offered by ultrasonic technologies to ensure they are widely adopted for surgery.

Professor Margaret Lucas, the lead investigator on the project, who works in Medical & Industrial Ultrasonics in the University of Glasgow’s School of Engineering, said, “Many benefits will be delivered from new forms of ultrasonic tools. Traditional tools require surgeons to use high forces to cut through bone, for example, where an ultrasonic tool can be tuned to produce an effortless cut.

“That tuning process also ensures that the ultrasonic device can be tissue selective, able to cut through one tissue without damage to others.

“Currently, ultrasonic surgical devices suffer from a lack of understanding of the beneficial and damaging effects of high power ultrasonic vibrations interacting with tissue. My interdisciplinary research team of Engineers and Clinicians will overcome this by relating cell and tissue responses to the motion of ultrasound via ultra-high-speed imaging. The new understanding will aid the design of revolutionary new tools.”

The researchers will produce miniaturised ultrasonic tools alongside tentacle-like robots to reach inside the human body. Combined with research on the effects of ultrasound on human tissue, instruments will be produced to perform complex procedures more quickly, effectively, and safely.

The team:

Margaret Lucas, Professor of Ultrasonics, University of Glasgow

Sandy Cochran, Professor of Ultrasound Materials and Systems, University of Glasgow

Fabrice Pierron, Professor of Solid Mechanics, University of Southampton

Hamish Simpson, Professor of Orthopaedics and Trauma, Consultant Orthopaedic Surgeon, University of Edinburgh

Pietro Valdastri, Professor of Robotics and Autonomous Systems, University of Leeds

Damien Walmsley, Professor of Restorative Dentistry, University of Birmingham

First published: 22 November 2018