Into the future with robotics

Published on May 19, 2022

The Department of Urology often operates on a robot-assisted basis. Daniel Eberli helped to shape the introduction of the innovative surgical technique at the University Hospital Zurich and, as Director of Department, wants to continuously develop robotics expertise within the team.

Like a giant spider, the four arms of the surgical robot wind around Daniel Eberli. But only for the photo. During procedures, the Director of Department stands at the operator terminal and directs the robotic arms, which are fitted with delicate precision instruments. “We operate with greater precision when assisted by a robot than my hand could ever do.” The scissors, for example, have blades that are not even the size of the smallest Victorinox Swiss army knife. Ten years of practical experience, 450 procedures using robots and certifications for special robotics methods distinguish the new man at the helm of the Department of Urology.
His enthusiasm for robot-assisted surgical techniques is no accident. “In the Department of Urology, we recognized the advantages for our patients at an early stage. They lose practically no blood during the procedure, we can work with great precision and the recovery time is drastically reduced.” Another advantage is that organs and tissue can be kept intact through the new technological possibilities. It is not without reason that the Department of Urology at USZ is one of the most innovative players in Switzerland with great development potential and attracts both trainees and patients from all over the world.

Knowledge transfer within the team

However, technical expertise is developing at a rapid pace. “I expect at least two team members to be world-class in each of our departments.” Daniel Eberli focuses on dialog and knowledge transfer. During assignments in foreign clinics, the surgeons should acquire new technological knowledge, bring the acquired techniques back to USZ and continuously develop them as part of their team.
With robot-assisted surgery, Daniel Eberli is also clearly fulfilling the wishes of his main clientele. 75% of his patients are male and are in the second half of their lives. “Many men are tech savvy and expect state-of-the-art equipment during procedures.” 6,000 new cases of prostate cancer are registered in Switzerland every year. 1,500, mostly elderly men, die from it. “This means that a great many patients can therefore be treated successfully,” says Daniel Eberli.

Stem cells for the treatment of urinary incontinence

Women also turn to the Department of Urology, although they are clearly in the minority. Their symptoms mainly involve kidney diseases or urinary incontinence. “Incontinence is associated with shame and is still a taboo topic,” complains Director of Department, Daniel Eberli. In Switzerland alone, it is estimated that over 400,000 men and women are affected. This may be due to a weakening of the pelvic floor or bladder sphincter. The certified Continence and Pelvic Floor Center, a joint service of various clinics at the University Hospital Zurich, offers corresponding therapy options.
With stem cell research, however, the department’s own research laboratory is devoting itself to a new therapeutic approach to urinary incontinence. Stem cells can take on the muscle function of the tissue into which they are implanted. “When stem cells are implanted in the bladder sphincter, they develop into sphincter cells,” explains Daniel Eberli. USZ is a global leader in this field of research. The first clinical study with 60 volunteers is currently underway. “We see great potential in this to permanently improve the quality of life of our patients.”
Hand in hand: Technology and research

The fact that urology was about to take important developmental steps at the turn of the millennium was a major factor in Daniel Eberli’s choice of medical specialty. Tullio Sulser, his predecessor as Director of Department, became his mentor and promoted Eberli’s second specialist focus, stem cell research. Daniel Eberli acquired this knowledge during a sabbatical year at Harvard Medical School in Boston and a three-year PhD in Molecular Medicine at Wake Forest University in North Carolina. Upon his return in 2008, he set up the research laboratory for stem cell research at USZ.
For Daniel Eberli, the change of role to Director of Department is an exciting change of perspective. “Tullio Sulser always saw the big picture and drove me on when I was at risk of getting stuck in research or technology. Now it’s up to me to motivate my team and look to the future.”

Away from cutting-edge medicine: Development cooperation

In addition to technological advances in cutting-edge medicine, Daniel Eberli also attaches great importance to development cooperation. Last year, he and his team set up the infrastructure for modern treatment options for benign prostate enlargement at the Togolese University Hospital in Kara, trained staff and successfully performed initial procedures. “Saving lives there requires a heart and surgical skill, not robots,” explains Daniel Eberli.


Daniel Eberli, Prof. Dr. Dr. med.

Director of Department, Department of Urology

Tel. +41 44 255 54 01
Specialties: Prostate cancer: 3D prostate biopsies (MRI fusion, stereotactic), DaVinci robotics and laparoscopy, HIFU (High Intensity Focused Ultrasound), Robotic surgery (kidney and bladder), Treatment of benign prostate enlargement

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