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WASHINGTON (AP) — Getting stitched up by Dr. Robot may one day be reality: Scientists have created a robotic system that did just that in living animals without a real doctor pulling the strings.
Much like engineers are designing self-driving cars, Wednesday’s research is part of a move toward autonomous surgical robots, removing the surgeon’s hands from certain tasks that a machine might perform all by itself.
No, doctors wouldn’t leave the bedside — they’re supposed to supervise, plus they’d handle the rest of the surgery. Nor is the device ready for operating rooms.
But in small tests using pigs, the robotic arm performed at least as well, and in some cases a bit better, as some competing surgeons in stitching together intestinal tissue, researchers reported in the journal Science Translational Medicine.
“The purpose wasn’t to replace surgeons,” said Dr. Peter C. W. Kim of Children’s National Health System in Washington, a pediatric surgeon who led the project. “If you have an intelligent tool that works with a surgeon, can it improve the outcome? That’s what we have done.”
If you’ve heard about machines like the popular Da Vinci system, you might think robots already are operating. Not really. Today many hospitals offer robot-assisted surgery where surgeons use the machinery as tools that they manually control, typically to operate through tiny openings in the body. But robot-assisted surgery has been controversial, as some studies have shown it can bring higher costs without better outcomes.
So why the push for next-generation autonomous robots? Proponents think there are cases where a machine’s precision may outperform a human hand.
Wednesday’s project is “the first baby step toward true autonomy,” said Dr. Umamaheswar Duvvuri of the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center, a head and neck surgeon and robotic specialist who wasn’t involved with new work.
But don’t expect to see doctors ever leave entire operations in a robot’s digits, he cautioned.
Because it’s designed to do one specific task — stitch up tissue — the machine is a lot like the automation trend in other industries. Robot arms do the welding and painting in most U.S. car assembly lines, for example. They can find inventory in warehouses. From the driver’s perspective, many cars now are able to warn drivers when they’re too close to the car in front, or take control and apply the brakes to prevent a crash.
The new STAR system — it stands for Smart Tissue Autonomous Robot — works sort of like a programmable sewing machine.
Kim’s team at Children’s Sheikh Zayed Institute for Pediatric Surgical Innovation took a standard robotic arm and equipped it with suturing equipment plus smart imaging technologies to let it track moving tissue in 3-D and with an equivalent of night vision. They added sensors to help guide each stitch and tell how tightly to pull.
The surgeon places fluorescent markers on the tissue that needs stitching, and the robot takes aim as doctors keep watch.
Now the test: Could the STAR reconnect tubular pieces of intestinal tissue from pigs, sort of like two ends of a garden hose? Any soft-tissue surgeries are tricky for machinery because those tissues move out of place so easily. And the stitches in these connections must be placed precisely to avoid leaks or blockages, a challenge even for experts.
Using pieces of pig bowel outside of the animals’ bodies as well as in five living but sedated pigs, the researchers tested the STAR robot against open surgery, minimally invasive surgery and robot-assisted surgery.
By some measures — the consistency of stitches and their strength to avoid leaks — “we surpassed the surgeons,” said Children’s engineer Ryan Decker.
The STAR approach wasn’t perfect. The STAR had to reposition fewer stitches than the surgeons performing minimally invasive or robot-assisted suturing. But in the living animals, the robot took much longer and made a few suturing mistakes while the surgeon sewing by hand made none.
Kim, whose team has filed patents on the system, said the robot can be sped up. He hopes to begin human studies in two or three years.
WASHINGTON (AP) — Prodded by the U.S. government, Takata agreed Wednesday to add up to 40 million air bag inflators to an already massive recall, raising questions about the auto industry’s ability to produce and distribute the necessary replacement parts.
The recall of inflators that can explode with too much force and hurt people was already the largest in U.S. history at 28.8 million. But Wednesday’s announcement could raise that number as high as 69 million, a staggering task that will strain overburdened manufacturers.
The expansion also entered Takata, automakers and the government’s National Highway Traffic Safety Administration in a race against time. The government said the inflators have to be replaced before they reach six years old, when the risk of rupture increases.
Even before Wednesday’s expansion, it would have taken until the end of 2017 for enough replacement parts to be manufactured, said Scott Upham, CEO of Valient Market Research in Philadelphia, which tracks air bag sales. He wasn’t sure how many more years would be needed.
Other inflator manufacturers such as TRW Automotive, Daicel and Autoliv, which already are making replacement inflators, have agreed to join Takata to produce even more, Upham said.
“They’re pitching in to the best of their ability, but even with their help, it’s going to be very difficult to really ramp up production to cover this,” he said.
Still, the government said, it will take until the end of 2019 to finish the recalls, fast enough to catch the suspect inflators before they can burst and spew shrapnel into drivers and passengers. At least 11 deaths and more than 100 injuries worldwide have been blamed on the Takata parts.
But two years after the big Takata recalls began, automakers have only replaced 28 percent of the recalled inflators due to a lack of replacement parts and difficulty in finding owners and persuading them to get cars repaired.
“We are absolutely not satisfied with the completion rates of the recalls already under way,” Rosekind said, cautioning against moving too quickly. Inflators aren’t interchangeable and must be engineered to fit a specific vehicle, which takes time, he said.
“We don’t want to introduce new safety risks by pushing too fast,” Rosekind said.
Yet he said the recalls were urgent and told people to get recalled vehicles fixed as soon as parts are available.
“The science now clearly shows these inflators can become unsafe over time,” he said, referring to evidence that chemicals in the devices can degrade, especially when exposed to heat and humidity.
The models involved in the expanded recalls and the number of cars affected were not available Wednesday but will be posted within weeks on NHTSA’s website. The expansion adds three manufacturers — Tesla, Jaguar-Land Rover and Fisker — to the 14 that already have vehicles in the recall.
The expanded recall mainly covers inflators in front passenger air bags that do not have a chemical drying agent known as a desiccant. But it does not include side air bags without the drying agent, nor does it cover another 32 million air bags that have the desiccant. Some cars now have both driver and passenger inflators that are being recalled.
The expansion will be phased in between now and December 2019, with older cars and those in areas of high heat and humidity getting priority, the agency said.
Takata uses ammonium nitrate to create an explosion that inflates air bags in a crash. But over time and when exposed to airborne moisture and high temperatures, the chemical can degrade and burn too fast, blowing apart a metal canister and spewing shrapnel.
It takes a minimum of six years for the chemical to become unstable in high humidity regions, NHTSA officials said. As cars age, the risk grows, especially in areas where temperatures frequently cycle from cool to hot. Six years is a conservative estimate, and the replacement schedule is aimed at getting vehicles fixed before they are old enough to risk a rupture, the officials said.
But Sen. Bill Nelson, a Florida Democrat, said the recalls still aren’t being done fast enough. “If we wait another three or four years for these to get replaced, more people are likely to die,” he said.
Inflators with the drying agent have not been recalled because none has ruptured due to problems with ammonium nitrate, NHTSA said. There was one rupture, but it was due to a manufacturing problem with the canister, the agency has said. Side air bags are designed differently and are far less risky, they said.
Takata said it knows of no ruptures in the batch of inflators that have been added to the recalls, nor does it know of any new data “that suggests any substantial risk with respect to such vehicles.”
Still, Takata said, it agreed to the expansion out of a shared interest in safety.
Rosekind praised Takata’s conduct in the latest recall, saying it appears the company “may be turning the corner toward a stronger and more effective safety compliance culture.”
The additional recalls come as authorities in Malaysia investigate two more recent deaths in cars with Takata air bags that ruptured. Honda says the inflators spewed metal fragments in the crashes, but the cause of the deaths has not been determined.
This story has been corrected to show that Valient Market Research has moved to Philadelphia.
Krisher reported from Detroit. AP Auto Writer Dee-Ann Durbin in Detroit also contributed to this report.
NEW YORK (AP) — U.S. and global stock indexes moved lower a second day Wednesday following a dismal report on job creation that gave investors concern over the state of the economy. The data followed a round of economic news out of China and Europe a day earlier that also suggested sluggish growth.
The Dow Jones industrial average lost 99.65 points, or 0.6 percent, to 17,651.26. The Standard & Poor’s 500 index lost 12.25 points, or 0.6 percent, to 2,051.12 and the Nasdaq composite fell 37.58 points, or 0.8 percent, to 4,725.64.
Stocks started lower and remained there throughout the day, following a survey by payroll processor ADP which showed U.S. companies hired workers at the slowest pace in three years last month.
ADP said private companies hired 156,000 workers in April, down from 194,000 in March. The figure was significantly worse than expected. The weak reading bodes poorly for the broader job market survey due out Friday from the Labor Department, which is one of the most closely watched reports on the economic calendar. Economists expect the government to report that U.S. employers created 200,000 jobs last month and that the unemployment rate remained held steady at 5 percent.
Other economic indicators out of Europe were disappointing on Wednesday. Retail sales fell 0.5 percent during March from the previous month. Investors had expected a more modest decline of 0.1 percent.
Financial information company Markit said its purchasing managers’ index for the region, a gauge of business activity, slipped to 53 in April from 53.1 the previous month. Though still above the 50 threshold indicating expansion, the reading has fallen from the start of the year.
While stocks are well off the lows they hit in February, investors remain reluctant to make heavy bets back into the stock market. The S&P 500 has bounced off the 2,100-point mark several times in the last six months, most recently as last week. That means investors feel stocks are too expensive to make big bets, and are waiting to see more positive data or earnings, traders say.
“We’ve run out of gas here. ... We are going to need some sort of catalyst to move this market higher, but I don’t know what that catalyst might be. Earnings have been OK, but not strong enough to say it’s time to buy,” said Rob Bernstone, a managing director in equity trading at Credit Suisse.
Among individual companies, Intercontinental Exchange, the parent company of the New York Stock Exchange, jumped $17.51, or 7 percent, to $258.49 after the company announced it would not bid for the London Stock Exchange. The announcement came at the same time Intercontinental was reporting first quarter earnings, which were better than expected.
Travel company Priceline sank $101.60, or 7.5 percent, to $1,253.04 after the company warned that profits would slow in the second quarter.
Benchmark U.S. crude added 13 cents to close at $43.78 per barrel on the New York Mercantile Exchange. Brent crude, used to price international oils, fell 35 cents to close at $44.62 a barrel in London. In other energy trading in New York, wholesale gasoline fell two cents to $1.49 a barrel, heating oil fell half a penny to $1.33 a gallon and natural gas rose six cents to $2.14 per 1,000 cubic feet.
U.S. bond prices rose. The yield on the 10-year U.S. Treasury note edged down to 1.77 percent from 1.80 percent. The dollar rose to 106.93 yen from 106.41 yen late Tuesday. The euro fell to $1.1498 from $1.1505.
Gold fell $17.40 to $1,274.40 an ounce, silver fell 20 cents to $17.28 an ounce and copper fell 3 cents to $2.18 a pound.
Billion-dollar industries extract minerals from the Great Salt Lake used to grow food, build cars and more. So, what will happen if the lake disappears by fault of human-caused water diversion?
E3 is hosting its first Leadership Summit from 8:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. Thursday, May 5 at the Ogden Eccles Conference Center. Wade Davis, former Weber State and NFL football player and equality advocate, will be the keynote speaker.
The new owners of a set of abandoned buildings in downtown Ogden say they’ve got their work cut out for them, but are committed to bringing life back to the northeast corner of 24th Street and Wall Avenue. On April 11, George and Dragon LLC finalized the purchase of the old Antique Emporium building, 2386 Wall Ave. The group also purchased two buildings to the immediate north of the emporium.
Compass Minerals was recognized by the Utah Division of Oil, Gas and Mining with an “Earth Day Award” for its environmental efforts.
A legislative committee this year killed the proposed Food Freedom Act, saying it went too far. But state Rep. Lee Perry, R-Perry, who chaired the committee that heard the bill, said food freedom legislation will be back in 2017. Backers say millennials, urban homesteaders and home kitchen producers should be supported in selling their products.