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New Commission to explore potential of robots and other new technologies in surgery

06 Dec 2017

The Royal College of Surgeons has launched an independent Commission to explore the future of surgical care in the next twenty years. 

The Commission on the Future of Surgery will identify and explore the innovations that will most likely affect surgical treatment. This includes a shift from open surgery to single or even no incision operations; autonomous robots that work in synergy with the surgeon; and how 3D printed or lab-grown organs might solve the issue of the shortage of organs.

Renowned experts from the fields of medicine, science, digital technology, as well as lay representation, have been appointed to the Commission. Neurosurgeon, Mr Richard Kerr, who is Chair of the Commission and a Royal College of Surgeons Council Member, said: 

“The public is being sold a Hollywood sci-fi blockbuster vision of the future of medicine, much of it with the potential to become a reality. However, what will that really mean for patients and the medical professionals who treat them?

“It’s without a doubt a very exciting time for medicine as a whole, for surgery and technology. As a surgeon, I get the sense that we’re standing on the edge of something quite transformative. That said, we cannot just barrel blindly into this brave new world without carefully considering the implications for patients of all the changes that are likely to come over the next twenty years.

“We want to make sure that both surgery as a profession and the healthcare system are ready for the advances coming our way. This means considering issues like the choices of treatment that will be available to patients; what the role of the surgeons and members of the surgical team will be in the future, and how they will be trained; where ethical lines will be drawn; and what is safe for our patients. Central to this will be the patient and how these changes will impact the quality of care and outcomes of their surgery.”

The project will also consider advances in medicine and technology that may make surgery redundant, such as new pharmacological treatments, gene therapy or further developments in interventional radiology and targeted radiotherapy. 

Mr Richard Kerr adds:

“This is an exciting time. Advances in science and technology herald new treatments and ways of delivering those treatments for the benefit of the patients. We must be prepared for these changes, to embrace them and ensure the surgical workforce is trained and ready to deliver the resultant benefits to allow the continued advancement of surgical care.”

The Commission on the Future of Surgery will not consider the financial and Government policy implications of the medical advances it investigates. 

Case study: 3D printing for surgery

In the past two decades, 3D printing has been introduced in surgical education and training. 3D printed models have been used to teach anatomy in place of cadavers, with much better feedback than teaching through two dimensional medical images and anatomical atlases.

In the UK, the Centre for Applied Reconstructive Technologies in Surgery (CARTIS) has been one of the leading innovators in applying 3D printing technology to reconstructive surgery and prosthetic rehabilitation. CARTIS[1] made the headlines in 2014, when a patient whose face had been severely damaged in a motorcycle accident received titanium facial implants in an operation to rebuild his damaged face.[2]

Recently, 3D printing has been used to create implants in neurosurgery as well. A team of neurosurgeons at the University of Cambridge used CT scan data to create 3D printed titanium cranioplasty plates to repair skull defect in patients following neurosurgery. This technique is particularly useful to produce more accurate cranioplasty plates due to the irregular shape of the skull.[3]


Notes to editors

1. Introduction to CARTIS. CARTIS Centre for Applied Reconstructive Technologies in Surgery. (cited October 2017) 

2. Pioneering 3D printing reshapes patient’s face in Wales. BBC News. (cited October 2017)

3. Brain surgery revolution. BBC News (cited October 2017)

4. The Royal College of Surgeons of England is a professional membership organisation and registered charity, which exists to advance surgical standards and improve patient care.

5. The Commission on the Future of Surgery will consider developments in minimally invasive surgery, robot-assisted surgery, nanotechnology, radiology and imaging, artificial intelligence, genetics, oncology, 3D printing and planning, regenerative medicine, pharmacology, and anaesthesia.

6. The list of commissioners is below: 

Mr Richard Kerr (Chair of the Commission)
Professor Nick Black
Will Cavendish
Professor Sue Clark
Professor Rajesh Chopra
Dr Gill Gaskin
Ros Levenson
Miss Lorna Marson
Professor Dion Morton
Dr Liam O’Toole
Mr Adrian Sugar
Professor Guang-Zhong Yang
Professor Tony Young

7. For more information, please contact the RCS Press Office: Telephone: 020 7869 6047/6052; Email:; For out of hours media enquiries: 07966 486832. 



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