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Palpable: Multi-sensing Tool for Minimally Invasive Surgery

Tue, 12 September, 2023

The PALPABLE project came to life in January 2023 when the consortium partners embarked on a mission to provide the healthcare industry with a multi-sensing tool for Minimally Invasive Surgery (MIS). The finger-like, palpation tool will collect, process and interpret valuable sensory data, enabling new functionality that could result in breakthroughs, not only in the field of surgical tools but also in photonic, soft robotics and multi-sensing systems. To maximise sustainability and promote cost-effectiveness during the tool's manufacturing, while at the same time respecting the sterilisation standards required in the surgical domain, the consortium members are striving to optimise the PALPABLE design in order to minimise the number of disposable parts in favour of recyclable, sterilisable components.

 Each year, 310 million major surgeries are performed worldwide, including 20 million operations in Europe. Around 10% of these consist of laparoscopies; the most widely used type of MIS, yet the current state of MIS is that it is in need of additional haptic, visual and tactile feedback. Therefore, by optimising existing laparoscopic tools and processes, the invasiveness and duration of operations can be minimised, while safety and functionality are prioritised, thereby delivering immense benefits to healthcare professionals and patients.

 In pursuit of this innovative cause, a consortium of 10 partners, including enterprises Medtronic and Sofradim, Bendabl an SME, research institutions /universities Hellenic Mediterranean University, The University of Turin, Queen Mary University of London, and The University of Essex with TWI Hellas (under the Essex Innovation Centre), Fraunhofer Heinrich Hertz Institute and medical association The European Association for Endoscopic Surgery, was assembled. Collectively they combine the ideal technical and medical expertise to develop the next-generation of MIS tools.

 TWI Hellas is the Project Coordinator and responsible for the creation of the readout hardware unit and the overall integration of the system, basing their work on previous experience focusing on high-frequency data acquisition for photonics application environments.

Katerina Smyrli, Senior Mechanical Engineer leading the TWI Hellas technical work, emphasised, “The PALPABLE tool will provide operating surgeons with valuable tactile feedback during MIS. Our consortium aims to produce a low-cost but precise, widely accessible device. In this way, we aim to help improve patient outcomes and reduce post-op hospitalisations all over the world. TWI Hellas’ main contribution to PALPABLE is the creation of a reliable, low-cost, readout unit that will essentially power the tactile device, digitise its various sensors’ readings and provide high-resolution information back to the surgeon. The readout unit will coordinate the operation of several state-of-the-art sensing technologies, and therefore its development requires multi-disciplinary expertise. The totality of the other PALPABLE project activities, led by our partners, are all equally ambitious. We are all very excited for the opportunity to work together on this tool’s development towards such an important goal.”

The Horizon Europe project aims to revolutionise the healthcare industry by making solid steps forward in MIS. By developing the PALPABLE prototype, a series of existing issues like reduced vision, impaired tactile information and reduced freedom of movement could be resolved, transporting MIS further into the future.

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