The First Successful Robotic Liver Transplant: Are Robotic Surgeries the Future?

One of the most complex abdominal surgeries, liver transplantation, has been successfully performed for the first time by robots. This success confirms the usefulness and precision of the robot in surgical interventions and surgeries, even in procedures involving delicate sewing.
Read more about the benefits of robotics in medicine below.

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Illustration: Lenka T.

The first robotic liver transplant   

In mid-July 2023, a liver transplant was successfully performed in the United States for the first time with the help of a robot operated by a surgeon. This operation represents an important step forward in the progress of surgery and is part of the clinic’s efforts to influence the prevalence and adoption of innovative procedures in operations. 

The patient who underwent surgery is a man in his sixties, who suffered from liver cancer and cirrhosis caused by hepatitis C and needed a transplant. The robot’s movements were driven from a nearby console by the chief surgeon, Dr. Adeel Khan, looking at the screen and using something like game joysticks. 

“The transplant was successful: The operation went smoothly, the new liver immediately began to work, and the patient recovered without any surgical complications,” the surgeon briefly commented in a statement to the Washington University School of Medicine

The operation lasted about eight hours, although surgeons believe that time will be even less when this procedure becomes more prevalent. 

In the same clinic, they have already successfully performed about 30 surgeries of a minor degree of complexity using a robotic system, but this is the first robotic liver transplant in the country, which is considered one of the most complicated procedures due to heavy bleeding and delicate suturing of small blood vessels. 

Prior to surgery in the U.S., the world’s first robotic liver transplant was performed in South Korea in 2021, although it only partially used a robotic system. 

Advantages of robotic operations   

Under normal circumstances, patients who undergo this type of surgery take about six weeks, at best, to recover and start enjoying regular activities again without major inconveniences. That is, how fast the recovery will be depends on the expertise of the team of surgeons, so in some situations it can take even longer. 

However, thanks to the fact that this transplant was performed with the help of a robot, this patient was already able to walk unhindered after a month and return to his hobbies that include significant physical activity, such as swimming or golf. 

How is that possible? 


This innovative method allows surgery to be less invasive and therefore the patient's recovery is incomparably faster. That's why clinics are focused on advancing technology and the prevalence of their real-world applications so that both doctors and patients can enjoy the benefits that robotics bring.

More precisely, this transplant is, in the traditional way, performed by the surgeon making a vertical incision of 7.6-10cm and a horizontal incision of 30-41cm, in order to extract the diseased liver and replace it with a healthy donated organ. 

In the case of using a robotic system, several incisions are made 1.3cm long and one 15cm incision between the abdominal muscles, allowing the removal of organs. In addition, the surgeon controls the robot with the help of a high-resolution 3D display, which gives it a more comprehensive and clear erroneous insight into what it is doing.   

“We have five surgeons who are engaged in robotic transplantation, and this number will increase to seven by the end of the summer. Since launching our program, we have mentored over 30 transplant centers across the country to help them build their own successful robotic programs. Transplant teams from other centers come to observe our process, and we also visit their sites and mentor them as they develop their skills,” Dr Khan explained. 

And finally, when it comes to the application of robotics in medicine, it is not surprising that the potential of artificial intelligence to operate machines to make procedures smooth, meticulous, precise, with minimal risk of human error is being greatly explored. 

A journalist by day and a podcaster by night. She's not writing to impress but to be understood.