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University of Basel

27 July 2020

CHF 12 million funding for cutting-edge surgical technology

robotic endoscope tip on a fingertip
One of the results of the first funding phase: a high-precision robot endoscope tip with integrated laser bone saw. (Photo: Werner Siemens Foundation,, F. Brüderli)

Researchers at the University of Basel have a vision: an individually configurable robot will revolutionize surgical procedures and provide numerous benefits for patients. They have already taken the first steps in this direction. To further implement their vision, the Werner Siemens Foundation is now extending its funding for the “MIRACLE” project by CHF 12 million to a total of CHF 27 million.

Two persons with VR glasses and a hand-held control device in front of an image of blood vessels
Another result of the first funding phase: precise planning of surgical procedures in virtual reality together with specialists in other countries or continents. (Photo: Werner Siemens-Stiftung, F. Brüderli)

During the first project phase, the participating research groups developed technologies to be used in future operating rooms. The second phase now involves combining the individual systems (see context box) into a modular robot, which can be individually configured for the planned surgical procedure and which already includes the operating table and lamps. The surgeons can monitor this system during the procedure via a console.

For the second project phase, the Werner Siemens Foundation is topping up their funding for the project, which has been running since 2015, by an additional CHF 12 million. “We are deeply grateful to the Werner Siemens Foundation for supporting our visionary project,” says Professor Philippe Cattin, co-director of both Miracle project phases and head of the Department of Biomedical Engineering at the University of Basel. This opens up a unique opportunity for Basel, a city known for innovation. “Thanks to this financing and our expertise, we are now able to tap into huge opportunities that will open the door for robotics in surgery.”

Custom 3D-printed organic implants

In the first project phase, the team headed by Cattin developed a virtual reality platform for planning surgeries, which is already being used in the hospital. Now this system will also be used to design the shape and composition of implants. In contrast to older, primarily manual methods, this approach aims to enable faster and more precise design. The implants designed in this manner will then be custom manufactured using 3D printing. In the future, it may even be possible to print the implants directly within the body.

Three research goals

A flexible, modular robot system

The robot-supported endoscope (tool for examining the body and extracting tissue samples) developed in the first project phase will be supplemented with additional specialized endoscopes and coordinated with all the other devices in an operating room. In order to achieve optimal performance, the robot arms, the operation lamps and the operating table will be combined into one large robot system.

Designing implants via virtual reality

The system developed to plan surgical procedures in virtual reality (VR) will be expanded so that the exact shapes of bone replacement implants can be determined directly in the VR. Furthermore, this platform will be expanded through haptic feedback (technical simulation of touch) and thus enable the performance of patient-specific simulations of surgical procedures. With this type of system, the surgeon would be able to practice a procedure before carrying it out.

Intelligent organic implants

Three-dimensional imaging technology aims to identify defective tissue, measure it in 3D, and determine the structure of corresponding patient-specific implants. The patient-specific high-performance implants will then be grown in bioreactors or created using robot-supported organic printing technology outside and inside the body through a 3D printing process.

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