7 Israeli Robots That Are Transforming Surgery

The rapidly emerging field of robot-assisted surgery promises to revolutionize how doctors operate. Israel is one of the world leaders in this field.

(Originally published on Israel21c.org)

Robotic or robot-assisted surgery can give doctors better vision, precision, flexibility and control when performing complex minimally invasive procedures. Someday, surgeons will even use robotic tools to operate through the Internet, bringing modern medical techniques to remote parts of the world.

Only a handful of surgical robots currently are approved for use, and Israelis developed three of them.

“This really puts us in the center of the field,” says Prof. Alon Wolf, founding director of the Biorobotics and Biomechanics Lab at Technion-Israel Institute of Technology and chair of the Robotics in Healthcare session at the upcoming 2016 IATI-BioMed conference in Tel Aviv, May 24-26.

Wolf was studying for his doctorate under robotics pioneer Moshe Shoham of the Technion when they started developing SpineAssist (see below) for minimally invasive spinal surgery. This revolutionary device later formed the basis for Shoham’s Mazor Robotics.

“Many countries are putting a lot of money into developing these technologies, yet they have not been as successful as we are,” Wolf tells ISRAEL21c. “Israel is very respected around the world in this area.”

The “snake” robot for search-and-rescue that Wolf presented to President Obama on his 2013 visit to Israel was the inspiration for the Flex Robotic System (see below).

Prof. Alon Wolf showing the snake robot to President Obama at the Technion in 2013. Photo by Kobi Gideon/GPO
Prof. Alon Wolf showing the snake robot to President Obama at the Technion in 2013. Photo by Kobi Gideon/GPO

Wolf explains that surgical robotics began as a vision of the US army to deliver immediate treatment on the battlefield without exposing the surgeon to danger. A medic would put the robot into place and the surgeon would operate it remotely from a bunker.

“This vision is not completely realized yet, but we do have enabling technologies that allow you to do things in the operating room that you could not do before, and that’s crucial,” says Wolf. “In addition, improved remote capabilities allow a surgeon to log into cameras in other cities and control the view in real time via computer.”

Israel also used military experience as the basis of its robotics advances, says serial entrepreneur Ziv Tamir, the original distributor in Israel for Intuitive Surgical’s da Vinci, the American product that broke the ground for robotic surgical systems in 1999. He went on to found a few Israeli companies in this space through ZDev Medical.

“The technologies from Israel are based on knowledge from the military. This is a critical difference because all the surgical robotics projects in other countries are coming from universities so the technology is not always needs-based,” Tamir tells ISRAEL21c.

At BioMed, Wolf will discuss how medical robotics involves innovation from many disciplines. “I’ll try to show how this puzzle of tools and Internet and users is coming together to create a new reality, and why high-tech companies like Google, IBM and Apple are investing in technologies out of the scope of their core technology, including robotics,” says Wolf.

“I believe the future is in robotics,” agrees Tamir. “All the big companies such as J&J have projects in robotic surgery.”

Here’s a look at seven significant Israeli surgical robotics companies.

1. Mazor Robotics of Caesarea is a global innovator in robotic spine and brain surgery products based on technology pioneered by Prof. Moshe Shoham of the Technion-Israel Institute of Technology’s Kahn Medical Robotics Laboratory for Research and Instruction.

The first product, SpineAssist, was approved by the FDA in 2004. Mazor’s next-generation Renaissance Guidance System is now installed in about 100 medical centers around the world (more than half of them in the United States) for biopsies, reconstructive surgery, scoliosis correction, spinal fusion and other delicate operations.

The Renaissance 3D planning software helps surgeons map procedures for each patient and guides the tools according to the predetermined blueprint during the operation.

2. MedRobotics’ Flex Robotic System, based on Alon Wolf’s snake robot, can reach body cavities beyond the surgeon’s direct line of sight, especially head and neck structures.

“You lock it into location and operate through the snake, introducing portfolio tools we developed,” says Wolf. “It’s a single-port surgery because the system is flexible, enabling surgeons to do things they couldn’t do before.”

The Flex Robotic System was approved for medical robotics assistive surgery in Europe in 2014 and in the United States in July 2015. Wolf cofounded MedRobotics 10 years ago with colleagues he worked with at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. It’s headquartered in Massachusetts.

3. MST (Medical Surgery Technologies) of Yokneam makes AutoLap, an image-guided laparoscope positioning system to orient the surgeon and stabilize the surgeon’s motions — without a human assistant – in minimally invasive surgery.

The surgeon wears a wireless ring-like device that interfaces with the AutoLap system. The proprietary software captures and interprets visual data from the laparoscope and maneuvers it in coordination with the surgeon’s actions in real time, according to CEO Motti Frimer.

“We compare it to Xbox in the clinical domain, where the system understands individual gestures,” he says.

Last June, MST received $12.5 million in an investment round led by Haisco Pharmaceutical Group of China, earmarked for expanding marketing and sales of AutoLap in the United States, Europe and China. The system is already used in a dozen medical centers in Europe and at the first US site.

“We are addressing a real need in computer-assisted robotic surgery, because most robotics must be commanded by joysticks or other devices while the MST image-analysis platform responds to the surgeon’s actions. We aim to be the gold standard for all laparoscopic surgery, and also hope to expand MST’s image-based artificial intelligence technology into additional medical robot and computer-assisted surgical domains.”

MST’s AutoLap image-guided laparoscopic positioning system. Photo: courtesy
MST’s AutoLap image-guided laparoscopic positioning system. Photo: courtesy

4. Human Extensions in Netanya is awaiting FDA (US) and CE (Europe) approvals for its ergonomic, bionic surgical glove designed as a robotized brain to enable smooth and precise movements.

Founder and CEO Tami Frenkel explains that Human Extensions’ disruptive technology is modular for use in a wide variety of complex minimally invasive operations and can be tailored to a surgeon’s skill level and specific task.

“This novel solution will allow surgeons — for the first time — to access a patient’s anatomy in a manner resembling open surgery,” Frenkel tells ISRAEL21c. “It’s as if their hands are inside the patient’s body.”

She says the Human Extensions platform represents a big step forward as “the only smart multifunctional handheld system on the horizon for minimally invasive surgery of all kinds.”

The Human Extensions tool. Photo: courtesy
The Human Extensions tool. Photo: courtesy

5. Microbot Medical was cofounded in 2010 by Moshe Shoham with Yossi Bornstein and Harel Gadot, leveraging two technologies from Shoham’s mechanical engineering lab: ViRob and TipCAT. Advanced prototypes are in development.

ViRob is a revolutionary autonomous crawling micro-robot that acts as a “submarine” allowing surgeons to send a camera, medication or shunts to narrow, twisting parts of the body (such as blood vessels and digestive and respiratory organs) and to do minimally invasive operations on those areas guided by MRI and CT scanners. Prof. Nir Shvalb, now head of the Kinematics & Computational Geometry Multidisciplinary Laboratory at Ariel University, worked on ViRob as Shoham’s PhD student.

TipCAT is a proprietary flexible, self-propelled endoscope for use in the colon, blood vessels and urinary tract. A series of balloons sequentially inflate and deflate to create safe, fast and gentle locomotion inside body structures. Like ViRob, TipCAT supports functional tools.

Prototype of the tiny ViRob from Microbot, which will allow surgeons to send a camera, medication or shunts into narrow, twisting parts of the body.Photo courtesy of Technion
Prototype of the tiny ViRob from Microbot, which will allow surgeons to send a camera, medication or shunts into narrow, twisting parts of the body.Photo courtesy of Technion

6. XACT Robotics is developing a novel platform robotic technology for accurately inserting and steering the needle in minimally invasive CT-guided procedures such as lung biopsies.

It consists of a robot, a control unit connected to the CT and to the robot, and a workstation where the interventional radiologist can plan and observe the procedure. Any deviation from the planned pathway can be detected and corrected immediately without reinserting the needle or repositioning the patient.

The company hasraised $5 million in a round led by MEDX Ventures Group, which founded the firm based on technology from the Technion. The American National Health Institute will conduct joint trials with XACT on animals and later on humans.The CEO of the company, based in Shoham, is Chen Levine.

7. MemicInnovative Surgery “is dedicated to developing and delivering innovative robotic surgical solutions that enable surgical procedures currently considered infeasible,” says CEO Dvir Cohen, who has mechanical engineering degrees from the Technion and an MBA from Tel Aviv University.

“Memic’s surgical robotic system is based on a unique design that enables a novel and intuitive surgical approach for laparoscopic procedures,” says company cofounder Nir Shvalb.

Based in Kfar Saba, Memic is now moving forward with clinical trials and regulatory clearances.


NAMPO 2016 – Israeli Agro-Technologies Solving South African Farmer Woes

Israel is no stranger to drought, famine, and other issues that come from living in a desert climate with little room for improvement. As such, Israeli agribusiness are constantly developing better and more advanced technologies to help mitigate the topographical and meteorological hurdles that are central to the region, making Israel the ideal partner to help African countries that are struggling with these same serious problems. The Embassy of Israel in South Africa is one of the many prosperous partnerships that is helping bring Israeli technologies to African farmers and seeing outstanding success.

This year, the Embassy will be featuring some of the most up-to-date agro-technology companies at the NAMPO Harvest Day convention, and African businesses and citizens are invited to sit and discuss some exciting innovations for future development.

NAMPO 2016

The NAMPO Harvest Day show is an agricultural trade show that brings representatives from across the agricultural sector together. This year, several prominent Israeli agro-technologies are being introduced into the mix.

Israeli Agro-Technologies on Site

Here are a few innovative ideas in-the-making with the potential to aid African farmers in new and incredible ways.

  • Haifa Group (Haifa Chemicals Ltd.) is an industry leader, providing water-soluble fertilizers and plant nutrition supplements to enhance crop productivity in the open field. Currently, Haifa SA is working in the greenhouse sectors with control-released fertilizers across Africa including Zimbabwe, Mozambique, Zambia, and RSA. With the help of these plant nutritional solutions, Haifa Group is helping South African farmers increase their crop output in both quality and quantity, significantly decreasing the widespread famine that is a deep-seated issue in the region.
  • Metzerplas Agriplas is a manufacturer of irrigation equipment, so in essence, they are the conduit that lets farmers utilize the technologies that Israeli companies are bringing over. In addition to delivering these technologies, Agriplas has set up offices in Africa itself, providing over 100 job opportunities for the locals. Other irrigation systems that will be represented at the convention include NaandanJain and Netafim Ltd.
  • Mottes Tensiometers is a company that has developed and is currently utilizing tension lysimeters to measure the amount of nutrients in the roots of plants, really getting to the root of the agricultural problems.
  • Schneor Seeds CC is a developer that has germinated high-resilience fruit and vegetable seeds that are resistant to disease and infestation. These seeds can be a real breakthrough for global agriculture as they will eliminate one of the most troublesome barriers against solving world hunger.

The convention is being held in Bothaville, South Africa this year on May 17-20, and African businesses and citizens are invited to come witness some of the greatest agricultural technologies that are changing the world today.

How Israeli Startup Sight Diagnostics is Mending Malaria

In 2015, there were 214 million recorded cases of malaria across the globe. Of those infected, approximately 483,000 victims died of the disease. Since infection is spread by mosquitoes, malaria is extremely easy to contract. To make matters worse, diagnosing the disease has proven difficult, and many cases have gone misdiagnosed because of the complexity of the procedure. For decades, the medical world has been desperately attempting to generate a vaccine for this deadly disease, but all efforts have yielded negative results.

A glimmer of hope begins to light the way, though, as researchers at Sight Diagnostics, an Israeli medical device developer, has discovered a way to diagnose the disease in its earliest stages before it has had time to claim lives. With their newly developed technology, medical leaders are hopeful for a brighter future, one that doesn’t contain malaria.

Sight Diagnostics Sheds Light on Malaria Epidemic

Sight Diagnostics is a company that specializes in developing medical devices which use computer vision technology to effectively diagnose blood diseases. This innovative computer technology has lead to some astounding breakthroughs, the possible solution to Malaria being just one of them. The malaria device is called the Parasite Platform, and it’s so simple to use, medical professionals are surprised that someone didn’t come up with it sooner!

The Device to Diagnose the Disease

The Parasite Platform is currently being used by medical professionals all over the world to diagnose malaria. The significant breakthrough here is that it can diagnose the disease quickly and in a cost-efficient way. Since so many cases of malaria have gone untreated because of the costly, timely, and inaccurate diagnoses process, this device could well change the course of the malaria epidemic completely. The Parasite Platform is easy to use and has the most accurate results to date.

To see how the Parasite Platform works, check out this video:

A Global Solution

Africa has been hit hard by malaria, recording a $12 million annual loss due to the negative impact it’s had on tourism, increased medical care costs, and lost work force. Additionally, 90% of the deaths cited above were within Africa, so naturally Sight has geared much of their product distribution towards this region of the world. The devices are currently being sold and used successfully across India, Africa, and Europe, and according to Sight, this could be the biggest innovation for malaria development since the introduction of PCR.

On the heels of the Parasite Platform success, Sight has continued to develop their technology so they can develop and market a point-of-care complete blood count device that can be used in ordinary hospitals and doctors’ offices. Other innovations are in the research stages, and Sight Diagnostics may unveil more groundbreaking and life-saving measures in the near future.

Israeli Sewage Recycling Technology to Renew Hope for Indian Agriculture

It’s common knowledge that Israelis can work magic in the realm of agriculture and, more specifically, nontraditional irrigation demands. Using their advanced technology, the Israeli government transformed a desert strip into a fruit-bearing produce exporter with delectable produce on-demand in every season.

In an effort to raise productivity throughout India, the two countries partnered up to bring these ground-breaking technologies to Indian soil with positive results all around. This month, the Centre of Excellence launches a new initiative to recycle accumulating sewage water and use it to irrigate the Kesar mango crops.

A Centre is Built & a Partnership is Born

Since its inception several years ago, the Himayat Bagh Indo-Israel Centre of Excellence has been utilizing Israeli technologies, research laboratories, and packaging houses to promote and develop the agricultural sector in the area. With its newest project, the CoE aims to irrigate the mango crops with recycled sewage water from the Salim Ali Lake. While India will be contributing the infrastructure and location for implementing the new system, Israel will provide the training and support for the technology. A perfect combination.

There are currently four centres of excellence peppered across India. Kesar and Alphonso mango centres are in Aurangabad and Dapol respectively. The other two centres are in Rahuri and Nagpur, the former producing bumper crops of pomegranates, and the latter growing citrus fruits.

Addressing the Drought Issue

At an Adhunik Kissan gathering, David Akov, Israeli Consul General, spoke of the recurring drought issue in India. “To overcome the lengthening cycles of drought in Marathwada,’ says Akov, “the region should go [the] Israel way and develop a system for recycling, purifying, storing and conveying treated waste-water when and where farms need it, along with renowned drip-irrigation innovations to use the precious liquid most efficiently for agriculture.”

Israel is quite familiar with this process. Nearly 85% of sewage in Israel is recycled. Amazingly, this recycled sewage accounts for close to half of the crop irrigation needs of the entire country.

Technology Sharing

In addition to the sewage recycling systems, India is interested in implementing several other Israeli technologies that will help boost their agricultural market. Water conservation, post-harvest processing, and drip irrigation systems will all increase crop production and significantly reduce the dismay that many Indian farmers are currently under. Israel is also working side by side with the Indian government to set up administrative divisions in both Yavatmal and Osmanabad to help further the rural integration development efforts within the country.

With all these initiatives in place, it can be said with confidence that the Indo-Israel CoE will produce resounding success for the entire country to enjoy.