New Masters: Dr. Mark Dylewski, Robotic Surgery

Talking with Dr. Mark Dylewski, one of the new masters of thoracic surgery in the area of robotic surgery

Most of us never had the opportunity to meet or talk to some of the ‘masters’ of thoracic surgery like Dr. Hermes Grillo (1923 -2006), the ‘Father of Tracheal Surgery’ but as we have discussed before, thoracic surgery is not static.  New technologies and new techniques are emerging all the time, and with these developments – new masters of thoracic surgery.

Dr. Mark Dylewski, may look too young to be the father of anything, but he is certain to be remembered in thoracic surgery history as one its new masters, and as one of the ‘fathers of robotic-assisted thoracic surgery’.   While he is not the only surgeon doing robotic surgery, he is certainly one of the most prolific robotic / thoracic surgeons and has trained a large number of his peers.

Dr. Garrett Walsh and Dr. Mark Dylewski, thoracic surgeons

Talking to Dr. Dylewski about robotic surgery

At the recent conference, Advances in Lung Cancer and Mesothelioma, we had the opportunity to sit and talk with Dr. Dylewski about the state of robotics in thoracic surgery.   Dr. Dylewski is one of the foremost experts on the topic and teaches robotic surgery techniques at the South Miami Hospital Center for Robotic Surgery.  Since he started performing robotic surgery in 2006, he estimates that he has taught over 200 thoracic surgeons how to perform surgery utilizing the DaVinci robot.

In comparison to other minimally invasive techniques (specifically VATS), Dr. Dylewski believes that robotic surgery has greater potential for use in thoracic surgery, due to its easy adoptability.  He reports that unlike VATS, robotic surgery techniques utilize traditional surgical skills so that surgeons are usually proficient at robotic surgery after performing 30 – 40 cases.  There are no counter-intuitive movements or altered visibility/surgical perspectives which are two of the things inherent in video-assisted thoracoscopy.  He attributes both of these issues with the failure of more wide-spread adoption of VATS despite the availability of this technology for over twenty years.  According to Dr. Dylewski, less than 30% of all thoracic procedures in North America are currently done using VATS.

Simply put, even some of the best thoracic surgeons may have trouble adapting to VATS techniques and as many as 20% will never fully adjust to video-assisted surgical techniques.

However, in his experience, robotic-assisted thoracic surgery such as complete portal robotic lobectomy ( aka CRPL-3 or CRPL-4, depending on the number of arms used) has a greater potential for widespread use.  He explains that despite the initial hefty price tag, the robotic technology easily justifies its equipment costs, in terms of subsequent savings and benefits from decreasing the length of stay, less patient discomfort and greater patient satisfaction.  He reports that these benefits have led to the adoption of robotic surgery as the standard of care in other specialties such as gynaecology despite the relative newness of this technology.

Dr. Dykewski also presented data regarding surgical outcomes from 355 cases, which includes a wide variety of thoracic procedures such as lobectomies, esophagectomies and mediastinal surgeries.  Surgical outcomes were comparable to VATS procedures with a markedly shorter length of stay.

Dr. Mark Dylewski, MD

Thoracic Surgeon

Director of General Thoracic & Robotic Surgery

Baptist Health of South Florida

Miami, Florida

OR live with Dr. Dylewski

Spanish news story about Dr. Dylewski on YouTube

Selected publications

Dylewski MR, Ohaeto AC, Pereira JF. (2011).  Pulmonary resection using a total endoscopic robotic video-assisted approach.  Semin Thorac Cardiovasc Surg. 2011 Spring;23(1):36-42.

Ninan M, Dylewski MR. (2010).  Total port-access robot-assisted pulmonary lobectomy without utility thoracotomy.  Eur J Cardiothorac Surg. 2010 Aug;38(2):231-2. Epub 2010 Mar

Additional References and Resources

Meyer M, Gharagozloo F, Tempesta B, Margolis M, Strother E, Christenson D. (2012).  The learning curve of robotic lobectomy.  Int J MId Robot. 2012 Sep 18. doi: 10.1002/rcs.1455.   The authors of this publication report that it takes 18 – 20 complete portal robotic lobectomies to obtain competency.

Robotic Surgery training centers

Where do thoracic surgeons go to learn robotic surgery techniques?

Along with minimally invasive surgery (such as single port surgery), robotic surgery is one of the evolving therapies in thoracic surgery.  While the first-generation robots were unweldly, and awkward to position and use in the operating room, newer models and increased collective and individual experience has addressed some of the initial problems as well as the steep learning curve.

The most well known of these devices is the da Vinci robot.  While the robot has been used for several years, there still aren’t many thoracic surgeons using this technique.  (I have emailed a couple thoracic surgeons who practicing robotic techniques – so hopefully I can bring more information about their programs soon.)

But where do interested, practicing thoracic surgeons go for training?  What kind of training is available?  There are several programs nationwide, and more coming.

The Nicholson Center has recently expanded their robotic surgery training center.

Across the country, at UC San Diego, another new training site (which includes robotic surgery) has opened their doors.

This February (2012), Baptist Health South Florida is hosting the second annual Miami Robotics Symposium.