Robotic-Assisted Surgery

(top) Pier Cristoforo Giulianotti Photo by Lloyd DeGrane

Robotic-Assisted Surgery

University of Illinois Medical Center at Chicago

At first, the robotic-assisted surgery unit at the University of Illinois Medical Center at the University of Illinois at Chicago (UIC) might not seem all that innovative. Metro Chicago's other big hospitals employ the same computerized machine­—the da Vinci surgical system—to perform minimally invasive operations, as do more than 850 medical centers around the world. But most of them limit robotic-assisted surgery to one or two relatively common procedures, like removal of the prostate or the gall bladder. UIC's doctors have used the technology for virtually everything involving deep incisions. The latest feat: Dr. Pier Cristoforo Giulianotti has mastered a demanding operation for pancreatic cancer known as the Whipple. A few doctors elsewhere have experimented with robotic-assisted Whipple operations; by his count, Giulianotti, 56, UIC's chief of minimally invasive, general, and robotic surgery, has done more than 70. Minimally invasive operations are preferred because doctors can perform them through small incisions, reducing blood loss, trauma, and infections while speeding recovery. The downsides: It can be hard to manipulate tools and see in such tight confines. With the da Vinci, surgeons sit several feet away from the patient at a console and operate the equipment by remote control, watching magnified 3D images on a screen. An early adopter, Dr. Enrico Benedetti, head of UIC's department of surgery, bought its first da Vinci from Intuitive Surgical in 2000 and quickly switched over to it for all transplant operations. But Benedetti, 49, says Giulianotti, whom he recruited in 2004 from Grosseto, Italy, is the real pro. "He is clearly on another planet in terms of skill." –Michael Arndt