Meet Mako the assistant doctor

In a laboratory of the Joint Replacement Division of Stryker, a medical technology firm in the United States an artificial leg lies on a table. Next to it, projected on a screen is a 3D image of the leg with every curve, bend and joint rendered precisely. Standing nearby is a gray machine with one large ‘arm’ extended out holding a surgical tool ready to operate on the fake leg.

The gray machine is Mako, or Mako Robotic-Arm Assisted Technology, to quote its full name. It is a robotic assistant to surgeons worldwide for total hip, total knee, and partial knee replacement surgeries.

A technology that was once limited to science fiction movies is now a reality; Mako, which was first developed more than a decade ago and bought by Stryker in 2013, is an example of how robotics can make for more accurate, error-free surgeries.

Surgeons who use this tool are able to view a comprehensive 3D image unique to their patient’s anatomy — in this case, it would be the knee in question — able to manipulate the image, seeing exactly where they need to operate.

This information is programmed into Mako, which through haptic technology, will only operate within the bounds dictated by the surgeon. If it gets too close to being out of bounds of a specific operation, the machine will automatically stop, making sure those accidental, surgical mistakes that can happen with just human hands, do not occur. The clinical results of Mako-assisted surgeries speak for themselves. Surgeons are having such good success with Mako because of the precise and accurate nature of the program.

Hip and knee surgeries are becoming increasingly common; in the US alone more than 1.4 million total hip and knee replacement surgeries were conducted in 2018. But what is not often discussed is the level of satisfaction among patients with these surgeries. The use of standardized, one-size-fits-all prosthetics leaves many people in discomfort and unable to walk without pain and get out of a chair without discomfort.

With Mako, the 3D computer modeling ensures greater accuracy, the machine’s built-in defenses provide for safer procedures, and doctors can leave the operating room more confident that accuracy was upheld. Today, Mako has helped perform more than 300,000 procedures in more than 600 hospitals, and 1,000 surgeons have been trained to use it.

Mako’s future involves tweaks in software, as the robot itself has been perfected, but the tools it has to work with on its own can always be refined. Stryker currently has engineers developing software for shoulder and other injuries. And, now that the technology has proliferated through the public consciousness, the future where more and more people demand the kind of accuracy that robotics can provide for their surgeries is definitely in the offing.