Surgical Robotics Pioneer Discusses Holomers and Plasma Medicine at FutureMed

Surgical Robotics Pioneer Discusses Holomers and Plasma Medicine at FutureMed

At FutureMed, Richard Satava, MD gave an impressive presentation that touched on everything from breakthroughs in surgical robotics to plasma medicine. He is a professor of surgery at the University of Washington Medical Center, but he also helped pioneer the surgical robotic system that eventually became Intuitive Surgical’s da Vinci.

Early in his talk, Dr. Satava stressed the need for a new scientific methodology. While the scientific method has served us well and will do so going forward, it has limitations. In the future, we should expand our reliance on simulation technology, which “takes our current information technologies out of the present and brings them into the future.” Simulation technology, once it is able to mimic human biological processes, would disrupt the clinical trial process. “Right now, it costs $200 million dollars and 20 years to go through a complete, randomized clinical study.” But in the future, clinical trials won’t be based on “blood and guts,” they’ll be based on bits and bytes. And they will be much more accurate and faster to carry out.

And, we should look more carefully at outliers generated from scientific research, he said. “That may be the key to the next revolution.”

futuremed logo1 Surgical Robotics Pioneer Discusses Holomers and Plasma Medicine at FutureMedA Virtual Person

Dr. Satava stressed the need for information-based representations of patients in medicine. “We need to have a new kind of electronic medical record,” he said. A medical record should include a personal body scan with data embedded into it. As an example of this, he pointed to the holomer: (HOLO-graphic M-edical E-lectronic R-epresentation) developed by DARPA. In particular, patients should have such a scan done when they are well. That way, when they are ill or have an injury, a new scan can be done and compared against the previous data. When a person is ill or injured, it is the change in status that is the important factor.

scan image Surgical Robotics Pioneer Discusses Holomers and Plasma Medicine at FutureMed

When this technology is mature, it could allow someone to virtually test a drug or medical device before actual use. This simulation technology could be made accurate by marrying it with genomics, physiological, and other related data.

The government has already considered this technology “from a different direction” in its virtual autopsy research. The military can use information gleaned from such virtual autopsies to change its tactics on the battlefield. It could, for instance, use this data to develop more-effective armor in its vehicles.

autopsy scan Surgical Robotics Pioneer Discusses Holomers and Plasma Medicine at FutureMed

The Power of Robotics

As surgical robotic technology evolves, it will become an increasingly important point of integration for healthcare delivery. The technology, which Dr. Satava explained is better characterized as an “information system” than a robot, will help save time, increase efficiency, and collect important data. At present, 95% of the potential of the da Vinci robot is squandered. All of the data that it is generating when a surgeon moves his hand or looks at an image is thrown away, he says. “That should be shared over the healthcare enterprise.”

In addition, robots could be used in the OR to replace scrub nurses, who pass surgical tools to surgeons. Nurses have more important things to do, like interacting with patients, Dr. Satava explained.

Plasma Medicine

Dr. Satava noted that one of the fundamental changes about the information age is it represents a move away from physical objects to information and energy. “Energy is going to be a very important part of the future of medicine,” he reasoned. This form of medicine will be able to harness the power of plasma (as in an energy cloud) with handheld instruments at room temperature. In the plasma cloud are charged particles that can work directly on individual cells and at the molecular level. The budding field gives physicians the power to turn on and turn off specific molecules to, for instance, influence coagulation times and wound healing. It also can be used to kill biological agents. “At this moment in time, there is no known biological agent that is resistant to plasma exposure for 30 seconds,” he said. He surmised that plasma medicine represents one of the “most exciting new areas in addition to genomics” in modern medicine.

For more from Dr. Satava, check out this TEDx video:

Data & Web Enabled Healthcare

Genomics & Personalized Medicine

Regenerative Medicine


Medical Intervention & Surgical Robotics

Biotech Innovation & Entrepreneurship

Medical Practice



FutureMed 2011 and 2012 both had over 60 World Class Faculty. A sneak peek at the 2012 Faculty include Peter Diamandis MD, Dan Barry MD PhD, Catherine Mohr MD, Ray Kurzweil, John Mattison MD, Dr. Alan Greene, Alex Jadad MD, Aubrey de Grey & David Ewing Duncan.

Participant Quotes

Participant Quotes

“Absolutely incredible. The best conference I’ve ever attended.”

“Intellectually invigorating + practical business benefits”

“A mind-opening voyage into the future with the people who are creating it.”

“These 5 days have been the most inspiring days in my life. Nothing to add.”

Executive Director Daniel Kraft

Executive Director Daniel Kraft

FutureMed Executive Director Daniel Kraft, MD presents his latest TEDTalk on the Future of Health & Medicine

Synthesis Videos

Synthesis Videos

Watch the synthesis videos from FutureMed 2011, including Tim O’Reilly, Thomas Goetz, Roni Zeiger MD, Dan Barry MD PhD and more.



Thank you to our 2011 FutureMed Platinum Sponsors Celgene Cellular Therapeutics & Biogen Idec


Could bone marrow transplantation cure #HIV? 2 more patients seem HIV-free after #BMT #globalhealth #futuremed

– Marco Manca

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