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Using robotics against cancer

Few are able to say that they have had the chance to save a life, but since starting at Crouse Hospital, Dr. David Albala has helped save thousands of lives.

Albala, chief of urology at Crouse Hospital, is known as a leading national and international authority in laparoscopic and robotic urological surgery. He has focused his practice around the da Vinci surgical robot, which over the years has allowed him to perform more than 1,300 prostatectomies with it.

“One urologist, a guy named John Richardson, was sort of my mentor at Dartmouth and was just a normal ‘doc,’ had a pretty good perspective on life and was really a role model for me,” Albala said. “After I rotated on the service with him, I decided that urology could be the specialty that gives me the opportunity to work on big surgical cancer cases, short cases, work on both men and women and it sort of just blossomed out of that.”

After completing his training at Dartmouth, Albala went to the Loyola University Medical Center in Chicago. After just eight years there he became a professor in urology, including how to do a perineal prostatectomy. In just eight years of being there he became a professor in urology and radiology. But in 2001 after 10 years in Chicago, Ill., he made his way to Duke University Medical Center in Durham, N.C., a world-class leader of perineal prostatectomy procedures. While at Duke, he became director of the Center of Minimally Invasive and Robotic Urological Surgery, but it was also the first place he used the surgical robot.

“The cardiac surgery department had a robot and I said, maybe we should do this and essentially taught myself how to do the procedures robotically,” he said. But after his time at Duke and spending time in France learning more on prostate surgery, he came to Crouse Hospital in 2010 to help grow the robotics program.

According to Albala, Crouse really wanted to take a leadership role in robotics. During his first year with Crouse, he was able to do 185 robotic prostatectomies.

Albala said he understands first-hand the benefits the robot brings – abetter visualization for the surgeon with the magnified 3-D view, 10 times less blood loss, quicker recovery time, and seeing patients return to normal activities sooner – although the ultimate results would still be the same compared to open surgery.

According to Albala, the technology is advancing and Titan Medical has developed a new robot they will soon introduce called the Amadeus Surgical System. This new system will include better optics and a force feed back, which will allow the surgeon to “feel” the tissue and know how much pressure they are using. With the development of new equipment, Albala said he sees the future of curing cancer going in a different direction.

“If I had to predict 20 from now or 30 years from now, people will be looking at immune therapy,” Albala said. “What is really on the horizon with advanced prostate cancer is a drug called Provenge. What Provenge does is they draw blood out of someone that has cancer, send it off, wash it, put anti-bodies and antigens on it and then inject the blood back into the patient. Using the immune system, it targets the cancer cells and will kill the cancer cells.”

-Published in Today’s CNY Man magazine


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