Google partners with Johnson & Johnson on robot surgery

Steven Loeb · March 27, 2015 · Short URL:

The two companies have come together to develop a robotic surgery platform

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The closest thing I've had to a major surgery in my life was when I had my adenoids taken out when I was 11. I'm not sure if that really counts, but I do know that going under the knife is nerve-wracking. I remember the feeling of putting my life into the hands of someone who I barely knew, and trusting them to not kill me. I doubt adenoidectomies have a high risk rate, but that doesn't make much a difference.

I wonder how many people would feel more comfortable if, instead of a human, it was a machine doing it instead, or least a machine controlled by a human. We trust our machines to do a lot of things, so how about 

We  might soon have a chance to find out, as Google and Johnson & Johnson have come together in a partnership to create a new robotic-assisted surgical platform, it has been revealed

Ethicon, a medical device company owned by Johnson & Johnson, has entered into a definitive agreement with Google's Life Sciences team to collaborate on the project. The ultimate goal, the company said, is "improving health care delivery in the operating room," and "advancing surgical robotics to benefit surgeons, patients and health care systems."

There are advantages to both the patient and the surgeon; the surgeon gets tools that allow them to do their jobs better, and the patient is put less at risk. For example, it could be possible to develop real-time image analysis capabilities that help surgeons see better; software could help to highlight blood vessels or nerves or tumor margins that are difficult to see with the naked eye.

"Robotic-assisted surgery is a type of minimally invasive surgery that uses technology to give surgeons greater control, access and accuracy during the surgical procedure while benefiting patients by minimizing trauma and scarring, enabling accelerated post-surgical healing," Johnson & Johnson wrote. 

"In recent decades, minimally invasive surgical (MIS) instruments have become common in operating rooms across America, with surgeons using these tools to assist with millions of common surgical procedures. In some systems, the surgeon uses computerized controls to manipulate surgical instruments inside a patient’s body, aided by special cameras that provide high resolution imagery of the anatomy.  These operating techniques have become popular because they offer the promise to minimize incision size, blood loss, pain, and recovery time -- the hope of every doctor and patient," a Google spokesperson told VatorNews.

"As the field of MIS has become more common, leaders in the surgical space, such as Ethicon, a Johnson & Johnson company, are figuring out ways to give physicians more options for robotic-assisted surgery and to bring more advanced technology to the operating room. Over the next few years, the hope is to develop tools that may help give surgeons even greater visibility, understanding, and accuracy during surgical procedures."

While no financial terms between the two companies have been revealed, they will be combining "capabilities, intellectual property and expertise," in order to develop new robotic tools that integrate medical device technology with robotic systems, imaging and data analytics. So that sounds like it would mean going beyond just advances in surgery technique, and would include collecting more data that could then be analyzed to improve patient recovery.

The transaction between Google and Johnson & Johnson is expected to close during the second quarter of 2015. 

This is far from the first time that Google has made strides in the healthtech space. In fact, that has been a big topic of concern for Google for a while now and many of its so-called "moonshot projects" have had to do with health and well being.

That includes a smart contact lens for monitoring diabetes, as well as something called Baseline Study, which will involve the collecting of genetic and molecular information from a group of people. It also bought Lift Labs, the creators of an electronic device that improves the quality of life for those with Parkinson’s and essential tremor, in September of 2013. 

The company's biggest, and most ambitious, health-related project is Calico, company that was founded by Google in late 2013, and whose was to take on the aging process. The focus was said to be on health and well-being, particularly when it comes to aging and diseases associated with that process.

Calico teamed up with biopharmaceutical company AbbVie to create a $1.5 billion research facility dedicated to developing and testing anti-aging related drugs.

VatorNews has reached out to Google for a comment on the new partnership with Johnson & Johnson. We will update this story if we learn more. 

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