AT&T's $1 Million Contribution to Seed Telesurgery Program

Local students considering health care professions learn about investment in future of surgery

MD Anderson News Release 03/22/12

A $1 million contribution from AT&T to The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center will seed the institution's venture into the next generation of telemedicine: telesurgery.

With AT&T's contribution, MD Anderson will launch a five-year, three-phase plan to extend its specialized surgical expertise to rural and underserved communities in Texas, build new collaborations and develop mentoring programs that advance cancer surgery.  

MD Anderson is one of the first cancer centers in the nation to explore the evolving field of telesurgery.

On hand for the announcement today (March 22) are approximately 30 students from DeBakey High School for Health Professions in Houston and The Woodlands High School who are participating in the AT&T/Junior Achievement Worldwide Job Shadow Initiative. Today, the students shadowed surgeons at MD Anderson, saw robotic surgery technologies in action and learned how dramatically robotics have changed surgery in the past decade.

As with telemedicine, which leverages advanced communication technologies to allow physicians in locations all over the globe to connect, exchange detailed clinical information and discuss patient care, telesurgery will link a surgeon performing a procedure with another surgeon to coach, observe or teach from a distance. With communications technologies and cameras connected to robotic surgical instruments, both sets of surgeons will see the patient's anatomy together and work through the intricacies of delicate cancer surgery.

The AT&T contribution will fund the development of mobile and permanent technologies, bandwidth, facilities and equipment that will launch the telesurgery program. AT&T long has supported
MD Anderson's telemedicine program since that field opened more than two decades ago.  

"The promise of telesurgery, we believe, is tremendous and thanks to AT&T's generous contribution, we have a collaborator who also believes in that great promise," said Ronald DePinho, M.D., president of MD Anderson. "It is the mission of this institution to eliminate cancer in Texas, the United States and the world. Clearly, advanced communications technologies are vital to help us achieve this goal. We thank AT&T for its contribution and vision."

"Using the power of broadband and wireless technology, we will help deliver the knowledge and expertise of the team at MD Anderson to underserved communities across Texas," said Dave Nichols, President?AT&T Texas. "We are proud to help the talented professionals at MD Anderson as they continue expanding the reach of their healing hands through state-of-the-art broadband and communications technologies."

MD Anderson will launch the first phase of the telesurgery program late this year, starting with pre-operative consultations with the surgeons in two of its four regional care centers. MD Anderson surgeons, who have specialties in head and neck and urologic cancers, currently care for patients in Sugar Land and Katy, and they will connect with colleagues who see patients at MD Anderson in the Texas Medical Center.

The second phase will enable an offsite surgeon or team to observe an operation at a distant location. The last phase, in which technologies will be connected to the robotic surgical instruments, will enable the offsite surgeon to actively participate in the distant surgery and advise the onsite surgeon.

"While cancer rates overall are going down, there are segments of the population that have not seen this happen, particularly those living in underserved areas, whose limited geographic access to health care prevents them from getting optimal cancer care," said Surena Matin, MD, associate professor in the Department of Urology and medical director of the Minimally Invasive and New Technology in Oncologic Surgery (MINTOS) program. "With this program we hope to begin making steps to bridge this gap, and we are very appreciative to AT&T for making this significant commitment to our fellow Texans."

The students who attended today's event participate in the AT&T/Junior Achievement Worldwide Job Shadow Initiative that allows young people the opportunity to learn firsthand the kinds of job skills they need for future success.  The program is designed for students in grades 9 through 12, as well as second semester eighth graders. Since it began in 2008, the program has served 100,000 students in more 200 cities nationwide.  03/22/12