Israeli innovation: A glimpse into the future of surgical robotics

Memic Innovative Surgery’s CEO Dvir Cohen gives an inside look at the medical robotics industry, and where it may be headed.

 Biomed Israel conference (photo credit: PR)
Biomed Israel conference
(photo credit: PR)

Dvir Cohen is the CEO of Memic Innovative Surgery, a company that develops advanced robotic medical tools. Memic’s proprietary product, a servo-controlled robotic tissue grasper, allows surgeons to perform less damaging and less invasive procedures thanks to its unique design, which emulates the shoulder, elbow and wrist joints of a human arm.

Cohen is also the chair of the “Current and Future Role of Robotics in the Medical Field” track at the upcoming Biomed Israel conference, which is co-chaired by Ruti Alon; Ora Dar, PhD; and Nissim Darvish, MD, PhD. The conference will present the vast array of innovations taking place in the medical tech field in Israel, with Cohen’s track specifically focusing on robotics.

There are a few different variations of ‘human extension’ medical robots being used in the field today. What is the core innovation underlying Memic’s?

“I had for many years worked in the Israeli Ministry of Defense to develop sub-micron accuracy articulate instrumentations. [I began] developing a [device with a] third upper extremity, so you have shoulder, elbow and wrist. When you add the shoulder into play, it allows more than 360 degrees of rotation and flexion, allowing the surgeon to reach regions that were previously unreachable.

“Before I started the company, I wanted to really find any indication [of what surgical field would be our best entry point], and I saw a statement from the American Congress of Gynecologists stating that vaginal-approach hysterectomy should be performed whenever feasible. I spoke with a surgeon and asked, ‘If that’s the approach of choice, why don’t we just use it in all cases?’ He started to laugh and said, ‘Of course, it’s a better way. It’s the minimally invasive approach for the patients. But we can do it in only 10%-15% of cases [due to limited tool maneuverability].

 Dvir Cohen (credit: PR) Dvir Cohen (credit: PR)

“We wanted to do something that removes the barrier to the trans-vaginal approach, which is associated with better outcomes for the vast majority of cases. We set ourselves the goal to leverage robotic technologies and very unique incision points to the abdominal cavities in regions that no one else can reach, in order to allow the preferred approach [whenever possible].”

Gynecology is a key use case for your technology; are there any other applications for Memic’s device that you’re eyeing (besides installing them onto the back of a Spider-Man villain)?

“We’re definitely not a one-trick pony. Now as we speak, we’re going to general surgery. The vast majority of surgical cases are not being adopted robotically today, due to the physical footprint and the sheer cost of other systems.

“Today’s surgical robotics devices are straight sticks with graspers at one end, and large and bulky motors at the other. Our device puts the motors inside the shoulder, elbow and wrist along the instrumentation. It’s a fraction of the size of other systems, and therefore it’s a fraction of the price of other systems. We’re solving the economical value proposition and the clinical value proposition in gynecology and now in general surgery.”

What do you see as the next step for medical robotic development?

“When I consider the field as of today, I think that Intuitive Surgical did really great work in paving the way, and that robotic technology is here to stay.”

[Intuitive Surgical develops surgical robotics that have been widely adopted in surgery theaters around the world.]

“Surgeons want to adopt robotic technologies, and so a lot of companies are working with the exact same architecture that Intuitive has built. It’s a magnificent technology, but I really believe the evolution of robotics should go a few steps further. And in Israel, things are different.

“In Israel, we have some great minds that really cracked the code and are doing things differently – in soft tissue, in handheld robotic technologies and in orthopedics. Nowhere else in the world will you find such a small population with such disruptive technologies, specifically in surgical robotics.”