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NSF funds research center to test computers and robots in surgery

MIT, Johns Hopkins University and Carnegie Mellon University are partners in a new research center that will explore the use of computers and robots in the operating room of the future. The center, which is being established with a five-year, $12.9 million grant from the National Science Foundation, will be based at Johns Hopkins.

The new center "will combine emerging technologies in computer vision and robotics to create the next generation of surgical methods," said Eric L. Grimson, the Bernard Gordon Professor of Medical Engineering in the Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science and the Artificial Intelligence Laboratory. "We hope it will be a breeding ground for revolutionary technologies."

Professor Russell H. Taylor, an expert in medical robotics and computer-assisted surgery at Johns Hopkins, will be director of the new Engineering Research Center (ERC) in Computer-Integrated Surgical Systems and Technology. Professor Grimson and Professor Takeo Kanade, an expert in medical robotics at Carnegie Mellon, are associate directors.

MIT's involvement in the center will focus on computer models to plan and guide surgery. "We take medical scans of a patient and use them to create a graphical reconstruction of the patient's internal anatomy, which is then used to guide a surgeon throughout the procedure," said Professor Grimson, a computer vision specialist. A prototype of the system, initially developed in 1997, is now in almost daily use at Brigham and Women's Hospital, MIT's collaborator. More information can be found at

NSF funding for the center is renewable for an additional five years. The program is expected to be financially self-sustaining after 10 years. The center's university researchers will also be working with doctors at Brigham and Women's, Shadyside Hospital in Pittsburgh and Johns Hopkins's own medical school.

In addition to the NSF funding, the universities and hospitals involved will contribute another $8.1 million over the first five years. During the program's first five years, almost $9 million in industry funding is anticipated. Industry donors have pledged $1.75 million in additional funds for the first year alone.

The new ERC joins a group of 20 others that involve more than 500 firms in a wide range of fields, including bioengineering, multimedia technology and manufacturing. The ERCs focus interdisciplinary teams of faculty and students on research to produce next-generation technology and education. Through close collaboration with industry and other practitioners, they speed technology transfer and develop a new generation of engineers and scientists who are more effective in industry and practice.

MIT has two ERCs on campus. They are the Biotechnology Process Engineering Center directed by Douglas A. Lauffenburger, the J.R. Mares Professor in the Department of Chemical Engineering, and the Center for Innovation in Product Development directed by Professor Warren P. Seering of the Department of Mechanical Engineering.

A version of this article appeared in MIT Tech Talk on September 30, 1998.

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