Bellin Hospital Offering Robotic-Assisted Minimally Invasive Option for Lung Biopsy

Ion system allows greater access, gets patients answers sooner

With the approach of Lung Cancer Awareness Month, Bellin Health is offering patients a new, minimally invasive option for lung biopsy. The Ion endoluminal system is a novel form of bronchoscopy that allows the operator to sample lung tumors in remote portions of the lung without putting as much as a scratch on the patient’s skin. Ion is the only bronchoscopy platform using “shape-sensing technology” that determines the precise location of the instrument tip throughout the procedure and allows access to tumors that previously were invisible to the operator. Bellin is the first hospital in Northeast Wisconsin to offer this technology, which gives its patients a safe and painless option to biopsy lung nodules earlier. Ion will provide patients quick answers about lung tumors, eliminating the stress of “watchful waiting” and erasing the fear of not knowing.

“The Ion system is a true game-changer for our ability to evaluate and diagnose lung nodules through the use of minimally invasive technology,” said Bellin Health Cardiothoracic Surgeon Dr. Steven Gerndt, Northeast Wisconsin’s first physician to use the technology. “It allows us to reach areas in the periphery of the lung that were not previously accessible, which helps us diagnose and formulate a treatment plan sooner, leading to better outcomes.”

Ion is made by Intuitive, the company that makes the da Vinci surgical system. Bellin has a long history with Intuitive, having established the region’s first robotic surgery program in 2005. The dual technologies will allow Bellin Health physicians to diagnose cancer with Ion and, if appropriate, immediately switch to performing surgery with da Vinci. During bronchoscopy with Ion, the physician uses the controller to navigate to the target nodule along a virtual path created by computer imaging. The catheter can navigate through small, previously invisible airways to reach all 18 segments of the lung. Once the pulmonary nodule is reached, a biopsy needle then passes through the catheter to sample tissue from the concerning spot in the lung. Because it is inside the lung, the patient experiences zero pain.

“Robotic technology provides powerful, life-saving tools, easing the way for our patients,” Dr. Gerndt said. “Many lung cancer surgeries are still being performed through a large painful incision called ‘thoracotomy.’ With over a decade of experience with the amazing capabilities of the Da Vinci robot, we have eliminated thoracotomy for most patients. Performing lung cancer surgery with minimally invasive techniques allows for a full recovery in as little as 10 days. The ION only adds to our capabilities to serve patients in the most caring way possible.” 

Along with sharing the news about its new minimally invasive biopsy technology, Bellin Health is working to spread awareness about the importance of lung cancer screening and recent changes to screening guidelines. Yearly lung cancer screenings are now recommended for certain individuals at a younger age — new 2021 guidelines call for individuals who fit these criteria to get screened:
• Ages 50 to 80 and in fairly good health
• Currently smoke or have quit in the past 15 years
• Have at least a 20 pack-year smoking history

Individuals who have questions about screening for lung cancer or any other type of cancer are advised to contact their primary care provider, or call 844-4 SCREEN for more information. Bellin Health encourages individuals to take the Screen/Pass Challenge, ensuring they receive their necessary screenings and encouraging their friends and family members to do the same. More information is available at

“Lung cancer is responsible for almost 25 percent of all cancer deaths today. More patients die from lung cancer than colon, breast and prostate cancers combined. We are doing everything we can to spread the word,” Dr. Gerndt said. “Please find out if you should be screened and implore your loved ones to do the same — it could save your life.”