November 3, 2011

Meeting spotlights latest medicine, technology ideas

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This app for VUMC’s Magnetic Air Capsule surgical robot was presented at TEDMed.

Meeting spotlights latest medicine, technology ideas

SAN DIEGO — The TEDMed conference here last week was a virtual who’s who in medicine, technology and health innovation, and a Vanderbilt University Medical Center team was right in the thick of it to offer ideas and highlight its groundbreaking work.

Representing the Vanderbilt Initiative of Surgery and Engineering (VISE), these faculty, staff and trainees joined nearly 1,000 others who came to TEDMed to give and see inspiring presentations, share insights and enjoy stimulating off-the-record conversations.

Presenters and attendees included cancer survivor Lance Armstrong, U.S. Surgeon General Regina Benjamin, ultra-marathon swimmer Diana Nyad and representatives of Johnson & Johnson, Walgreens, GE, 23andMe, Johns Hopkins School of Medicine, Merck, Weight Watchers, Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and others.

The Magnetic Air Capsule (MAC) surgical robot was among the Vanderbilt technologies on display. MAC is being designed as a more effective, less invasive alternative to colonoscopy and endoscopy. Guided by an external magnet, this tiny robot is able to record video, take biopsies and remove polyps.

The MAC robot was invited to be a part of TEDMed’s Innovation Showcase along with other awe-inspiring technologies ranging from a “smart retractor” to make chest surgery safer to a bionic “exoskeleton” to enable paraplegics to stand and walk.

“Our goal is to provide a painless colonoscopy and eliminate the need for sedation, which lowers compliance,” said Pietro Valdastri, Ph.D., who recently joined Vanderbilt’s Mechanical Engineering faculty from Italy. He added that clinical trials of the MAC are expected to begin sometime next year.

To make the exhibit more engaging and interactive, the Strategic Marketing Department’s Creative Services and Web Development team created a game-like mobile app that simulates the capsule’s travel through the digestive system and allows the user to identify and biopsy lesions.

The VISE team also displayed new technologies in robotic and image-guided surgeries:

Single Port Access Surgery — This two-armed robot allows abdominal surgery through a single tiny incision, keeping the surgeon’s hand in a natural position and providing stereo vision guidance.

Soft-Tissue Image Guidance System — A laser, aimed through a tube inserted through a small incision, allows a computer to show the surgeons – in real time – exactly where their tools are inside the body.

“In this way, we can see where critical structures like blood vessels and nerves are located before we ever get to them, and that’s a game-changer for surgeons,” said S. Duke Herrell, M.D., associate professor of Urologic Surgery.

Herrell and Allen Sills, M.D., associate professor of Neurosurgery, reported that visitors to the Vanderbilt exhibits showed a lot of excitement and enthusiasm for the concepts and technologies.

“This has been a fascinating gathering of thought leaders from a diversity of fields,” Sills said. “The energy, excitement and innovation have been palpable.”

View a demo of the MAC and watch interviews with Vanderbilt team members at under the “TEDMed” playlist.

More info about the conference is at

The app for iPhone and iPad can be downloaded at