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USC University Hospital hosts training center for robotic surgery

USC University Hospital has now become one of only six robotic surgery centers nationwide training physicians on the da Vinci Surgical System.

The da Vinci Surgical System teams the honed skills of surgeons with computer-enhanced robotic technology to perform complex, minimally invasive procedures. It is a product of Intuitive Surgical Inc., based in Sunnyvale, Calif.

University Hospital bought its da Vinci robot system early last year, and Vaughn Starnes, Hastings Professor and chair of cardiothoracic surgery at the Keck School, was the first surgeon at the hospital to operate on a patient with the robot last spring. Since then, Starnes and his fellow cardiothoracic surgeons have been busily performing procedures such as mitral valve repairs with da Vinci.

Now, USC University Hospital—in cooperation with Intuitive Surgical—is branching out to teach other surgeons how to use the high-tech equipment. The physicians and training staff recently held an open house at the site to introduce the center and allow other surgeons to “test-drive” the system.

The da Vinci system used with University Hospital patients is located in one of the hospital’s operating rooms. The da Vinci training staff uses a separate robot dedicated just for teaching at the training center, which is located in the Hoffman Medical Research Building.

During a da Vinci procedure, the lead surgeon operates remotely by using controls or “masters,” much like video game joysticks, at a computer console. A tiny camera inserted into the patient provides a live video image of the surgical field.

The robot’s arms mimic the surgeon’s movements. Surgical instruments are mounted onto the robot’s arms, their fully rotating tips inserted into the patient through small incisions made in the skin. Because surgeries are performed endoscopically—through small punctures and tiny instruments—patients experience less scarring, less pain, less trauma and less blood loss.

Jeremy Dumas, Intuitive Surgical clinical training specialist, teaches the surgeons how to adapt their surgical skills and procedures using the da Vinci system and helps them get a feel for operating remotely.

It helps if surgeons have performed laparoscopic surgery before, but it is not necessary, because robotic surgery mimics open surgery—except it is less invasive, Dumas said.

“When a hospital buys a da Vinci Surgical System, they can send teams of two surgeons and three nurses to any of our sites across the country to be trained,” Dumas said. “At USC, we have had four teams trained so far.”

Teams have come from as far as Idaho and as close as Irvine—as well as from USC itself—for the two-to-three-day training sessions.

Dumas praised University Hospital for its decision to become a training center. The nearest other Intuitive Surgical training center is located in Galveston, Texas.

“USC University Hospital had a vision and saw the future for this technology,” Dumas said. “Dr. Starnes has also been a key player getting this project off the ground.”

Starnes and Daniel S. Schwartz, assistant professor of cardiothoracic surgery, wanted to have a training center at the Health Sciences Campus, Dumas said, “and have both flourished in their skills with the da Vinci.”

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has approved da Vinci for use in abdominal and urological laparoscopic surgeries, as well as thoracoscopic procedures (minimally invasive procedures done within the chest, other than surgeries on the heart).

A trial involving mitral valve surgeries recently ended, and another one investigating totally endoscopic coronary artery bypass grafts (or TECAB) is now underway.

For more information on the da Vinci system, visit

USC University Hospital hosts training center for robotic surgery

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