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Karmanos surgeons, WSU engineers collaborate to advance surgical technology

Karmanos Cancer Center and Wayne State University have created a partnership called T.E.A.M.S. (Technology and Engineering Applications in Medicine and Surgery), with the mission of creating and using the most advanced technological tools to detect, treat and surgically remove all traces of cancer without the need for follow-up surgeries.


Donald Weaver, M.D.

The initiative got its start as the Advanced Surgical Technology & Innovation Institute, but is now known as T.E.A.M.S. The initiative was formed about three years ago and is the brainchild of Donald Weaver, M.D., chairman of the Department of Surgery at Karmanos Cancer Center and Wayne State University School of Medicine and Gregory Auner, Ph.D., professor and director of the Smart Sensors and Integrated Microsystems (SSIM) program, housed in WSU’s Engineering Building.

Karmanos surgeons work closely with members of the SSIM program, which includes researchers from many university departments, including electrical, computer, biomedical, mechanical and chemical engineering, along with computer science, physics, chemistry, biology and the school of medicine. T.E.A.M. members meet every other week to discuss various projects and new ideas. Members also are joined by medical staff from Detroit Medical Center, Oakwood, Beaumont and Henry Ford hospitals.


Greg Auner, Ph.D., professor and director of the Smart Sensors and Integrated Microsystems (SSIM) program at Wayne State University, talks about a piece of lab equipment that he and his colleagues built. It is just one of many sophisticated technologies in the SSIM labs housed within WSU’s School of Engineering. Photo by Patricia A. Ellis.

“Surgery is changing and the future of surgery is going to be driven by technology,” said Dr. Weaver. “Wayne State engineers have the technology but they need a place to test it. We provide them the arena in which to test those technologies.”

Dr. Weaver said it was the development of the surgical “staple” in the early 1980s as a means of closing incisions that pushed surgeons towards using new technology in surgical procedures. Today’s operating rooms, however, lag behind in using the latest technology, according to Dr. Auner.

T.E.A.M.S. is exploring ways to close that gap and have many new projects in the works. Dr. Weaver considers the use of Raman spectroscopy one of the most interesting technologies SSIM members are developing.

“In the future, there could be a laser that you could hold up to a lesion or mole and that laser could help a doctor determine whether the spot is normal or cancerous,” he said.

SSIM researchers right now are producing the world’s first Raman chemical analysis chip, which can be placed on a surgical tool. That chip would allow surgeons to not only remove a tumor but scan the surrounding tissue for additional signs of cancer, with immediate results and 100 percent accuracy.

Karmanos surgeons also are providing feedback to SSIM members in robotic surgery, improving upon the advances of laparoscopic surgeries. Laparoscopy requires the surgeon to use very small incisions in the body to insert surgical devices and perform robotic surgeries.

“We have a strong emphasis on minimally-invasive surgeries at Karmanos,” said Dr. Weaver. “The future of robotic surgery will be micro-surgery. We have some of the preliminary planning for that technology underway.”

In addition to surgical and diagnostic technology, SSIM’s researchers are advancing biomedical technology with the development of a non-invasive, radiation-free device that uses ultrasound to generate a three-dimensional hologram that could detect breast cancer at its earliest and most easily-treatable stages.

That technology could advance the SoftVue breast cancer detection device already created by faculty at Karmanos and Wayne State University School of Medicine, according to Dr. Auner.

Other innovative medical technology being developed at SSIM includes biological implants that can deliver lower-dose drugs that specifically target cancerous cells. Those implants can sense cellular changes in the human body and deliver appropriate doses when the implant senses even the slightest change. Other sensors can detect blood-borne pathogens, viruses and bacteria.

Approximately 80 percent of the technology SSIM works with has direct biomedical applications. SSIM was created by Auner approximately 15 years ago and is a self-sustaining program funded by external peer grants, including funding from the National Institutes of Health, Centers for Disease Control, Department of Defense, the Department of Health and Human Services and NASA. About 20 percent of SSIM’s remaining work focuses on automotive, environmental and aerospace applications.

Dr. Auner mentioned that many of his engineering students are very interested in developing new technology to advance biomedicine, and vice versa. Many surgical students avail themselves of educational opportunities provided by SSIM.

“It is a natural fit,” he said about engineering expertise applied to medicine. “We get a huge amount of input from surgeons. We want to know, are we doing something that is needed? It’s a joint invention process.”

Dr. Auner also mentioned that the technological advances created by Karmanos surgeons and WSU engineering staff fit perfectly with the state’s goal of making the economy more reliant on high-tech industries.

“We want this to be part of the retraining for the new economy,” Dr. Auner said. “Our program builds upon helping the Michigan economy. We’re also touching the entire region when it comes to fighting cancer.”

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