UH researcher awarded over $700K to study robotics for prostate cancer treatment

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HONOLULU (KHON2) — University of Hawai’i at Manoa researcher Bardia Konh was awarded more than $700,000 from the National Institutes of Health over a four-year period to study the use of medical robotics in prostate brachytherapy — a common treatment for prostate cancer.

According to UH, prostate cancer was the most common cancer among men in Hawai’i from 2012 to 2016. It is estimated that there will be 880 new cases of prostate cancer in the state in 2021, with 180 deaths.

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“Smart Needle with Intelligent Robotic Control for Prostate Brachytherapy,” if successful, will be the first-of-its-kind — a dynamic model for active needle insertions into soft tissue, which according to UH, could lead to the adoption of new transformation technologies in needle-based procedures.

“In recent decades, we have witnessed the rise of robot assistance in operating rooms,” Konh said. “By now, we can speculate improvements in the healthcare industry similar to the improvements we saw in the automotive industry when robots got to work.”

“To improve surgical outcomes, physicians are usually looking for tools that work better than their hands —with more dexterity, more degrees of freedom and more precision — and a better understanding of how the tools work inside the body,” Konh said.

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Konh said he, along with many others, have conducted extensive research to create robots with precise manipulation and good sensing capabilities to improve the success rates of different medical treatments.

Brachytherapy is a type of radiation therapy that involves placing radio active seeds in the prostate gland to kill cancer cells. UH said the treatment is more popular than traditional radiation therapy and ensures less damage to the surrounding tissue.

This type of therapy is a difficult task for humans, according to UH, because it demands a very experienced surgeon with a developed and intuitive feel for the needle insertions.

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