TOKYO -- High-definition imaging systems are growing more common at hospitals in Japan, allowing surgeons to see organs more clearly during operations.
Although refinements are still needed, the market for such equipment is expected to grow substantially.
In September, Tokyo-based startup Kairos introduced the KairoScope-E, the world's first surgical endoscope with 8K resolution. The device is used in laparoscopy, a type of surgery that is performed through a small incision in the patient's abdomen. The endoscope itself is about 5cm long and weighs 370 grams. It is priced at 60 million yen ($528,000). Kairos hopes to sell 300 units annually in Japan by 2020.
The 8K laparoscope has 16 times more pixels than conventional devices. This allows surgeons to see things that are invisible to the naked eye, such as narrow blood vessels and sutures a tenth of the width of a human hair.
The new device can create high-definition images without getting too close to the part being worked on, which gives the surgeon more freedom of movement.
Surgical endoscopes are increasingly in demand, as they allow minimally invasive operations. The patient feels less pain and bleeds less during a procedure. The problem with conventional endoscopes is their low resolution, which makes it difficult for the surgeon to get a sense of depth on the screen.
In October, Sony Olympus Medical Solutions, a joint venture between Sony and Olympus, began selling Orbeye, a digital surgical microscope that combines 4K resolution with 3-D technology. Surgeons wear special goggles during an operation to see images captured by a camera set up above the patient.
The goggles give surgeons a 3-D view that allows them to keep their eyes on what they are doing without looking through a separate microscope. This eases the workload and increases safety.
Fuji Keizai, a research outfit, estimates 4K and 8K resolution medical equipment will account for 30% of the surgical microscope market and 20% of the surgical endoscope market, respectively, by 2025.
That expansion is almost guaranteed, as such high-performance equipment is new to the market. But for these devices to become common in operating rooms, they need improvements. The 8K laparoscope, for instance, usually comes with a large, 70-inch monitor. This is impractical in small operating rooms, and the systems are more expensive than 2K systems that use monitors about 27 inches in size.
And it is difficult to equip flexible endoscopes, inserted through a mouth or nose to operate on digestive organs, with the big high-definition lenses used in 4K and 8K systems.
Because of their sharp images, high-definition devices are also expected to be used in telesurgery, in which doctors perform procedures on a patient without being in the same room. More improvements are needed if such devices are to help make up for the shortage of doctors across Japan.