Each year, an estimated 140,000 individuals in the U.S. are diagnosed with colorectal cancer, a malignancy that often develops from a benign polyp into cancer over time. Screening by colonoscopy allows for the detection and removal of polyps, and therefore aids both the prevention and early detection of colorectal cancers. However, when colorectal polyps or other lesions are too large or difficult to remove by colonoscopy, surgery is required. Now, a new option is available: a robotic scope that enables the physician to successfully remove lesions that cannot be removed by endoscopy without the patient undergoing surgery.  

Through a collaboration between the Division of Colorectal Surgery and the Division of Gastroenterology and Hepatology, physicians at NYU Langone Health were the first in New York to use the Flex Robotic System within the gastrointestinal tract. Together, colorectal surgeon Mitchell Bernstein, MD, chief of the Division of Colorectal Surgery, and gastroenterologist Seth A. Gross, MD, removed a large, premalignant rectal lesion in a woman who was later discharged on the same day.

“This is the first time a robotic platform was incorporated into gastrointestinal endoscopy,” says Dr. Gross, also an associate professor of Medicine at NYU School of Medicine. “At a time when technology and advancement in endoscopy is rapidly improving, our Division is committed to studying and utilizing the best technologies available to care for patients.”

Patients with large lesions—whether benign, premalignant, or potentially malignant—in the GI tract often undergo surgery to remove the diseasedanatomy. The robotic platform combines the principles of both endoscopy and minimally invasive surgery for luminal gastrointestinal procedures. 

“As surgeons, we continually strive to enhance our techniques, to provide better results for our patients while minimizing complications, decreasing pain, and speeding up recovery,” said Dr. Bernstein, also an associate professor of Surgery at NYU School of Medicine. “As a proponent of minimally invasive and robotic surgery, I appreciate the value of technology that treats disease without creating a traditional incision, thereby reducing scarring, recovery time, and risk of infection, while enhancing patient experience.”

How the Medrobotics Flex Robotic System Works

During the procedure, a flexible robotic scope is inserted into the anus under general anesthesia. The physician advances the endoscope, which contains a high-definition, 3D camera, to the site of the lesion by using a robotic console. Once in position, the scope creates a stable surgical platform through which flexible instruments can pass. Physicians can then remove the lesion without making any cuts through a patient’s skin.