The California Cure Robotics at the City of Hope

Grey’s Anatomy writers, take note: Surgery no longer requires a team of surgeons huddled around an anesthetized patient. The next wave of surgery—as performed by doctors like Dr. Timothy Wilson—happens with the doctor sitting halfway across the room.

Dr. Wilson is the director of the prostate-cancer program at City of Hope, which acquired its first Vinci Surgical System (aka the da Vinci robot) in 2003, making it an early adopter of the system. The remarkable device is used for prostatectomies, bladder removal, hysterectomies, lung-cancer lobectomies and other procedures, routinely delivering more consistent and favorable outcomes then conventional surgeries—it can even be used for more advanced techniques like laparoscopic surgery.

In spite of looking like an early ’80s arcade game, the da Vinci robot is one of the most sophisticated medical devices to date. The surgeon, seated, looks through a viewfinder, which magnifies the operation site and offers a 3-D view. Hand controls provide a high level of dexterity, which Wilson says allows greater precision and accuracy, as well as less blood loss. Between 10 and 50 percent of patients need blood transfusions after open surgery, depending on the procedure, but with the Vinci device, as little as one in 2,000 prostatectomy patients need transfusions.

Patients also recover more quickly. Wilson says that approximately 97 percent of his patients are back to their normal activities within “a couple of weeks,” whereas traditional prostate-surgery patients require an average of eight weeks recovery time.

Among the most important benefits of the da Vinci robot is the ability to save tissue through precision instrumentation, which allows the surgeon to extract tumors more exactly, striking a better balance between removing all of the cancer and preserving healthy tissue. This is particularly important in prostate surgery, because the tissue within millimeters of the tumor controls bladder and sexual function—two things well worth preserving. —Gwen Moran