Stryker VP: We are at the forefront of robotic surgery


Just three days before she was part of a panel discussion at the West Michigan Policy Forum, Stryker Corporation Vice President Katy Fink saw something incredible on a trip to China.

While visiting overseas, Fink had the opportunity to witness a robotic-assisted surgery. And as luck would have it, a few days later, she was present to hear technology policy expert Alec Ross speak on the leaps and bounds being made in both the biosciences and manufacturing industries.

“I believe that the world’s last trillion dollar industry was created out of computer code,” Ross said during his keynote speech to the West Michigan Policy Forum attendees. “But the world’s next trillion dollar industry is going to be created out of genetic code.”

Last year, Kalamazoo-based Stryker made $9.95 billion, according to research provided by The Right Place. The manufacturer increased its revenue by about 2.5 percent from 2014, and Fink said Stryker is at the forefront of robotic surgery. During the panel, she gave examples of robots that have been programmed to include information from MRIs and X-rays to help lay out a care path that can assist with surgeries.

However, to keep the ball rolling, especially in West Michigan, the talent needs to stay in the region. Later in the discussion, Fink underscored a concern that was shared by her fellow panelists — the importance of keeping the education at the forefront of the conversation and reaching students at an early age.

Fink noted Stryker sponsors several robotics teams beginning at the middle school level and partners with local schools to keep programs that might funnel students into a career in manufacturing from being underfunded or cut entirely.

“We have responsibilities as business leaders to get involved in these communities and help as much as we can,” she said.  “It’s critical that we help these students while they’re young.”

At the forum, Ross spoke about the possibilities of liquid biopsies, which would allow doctors to detect cancerous cells at one one-hundredth of the size of what can be found via an MRI. With the advances being made in genetic research, he said the ability to harvest information from the human genome is “going to make the way that we practice medicine unrecognizable” in the next 10 years.

On the manufacturing end, he talked about the advent of robotics, machine learning and artificial intelligence, and how that could impact the workforce in various industries.

While total autonomous surgery still might be years away, Fink has firsthand knowledge of where robotic surgery is headed, and the possibilities are near endless.

“It’s so exciting,” Fink said during the five-person panel that followed Ross’ presentation. “I think just listening to Alec talk and thinking about where it could go is almost mind blowing.”

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