Robotic Surgeons: From Science Fiction to Science Fact

From gallbladder procedures to prostate surgery, robots have gone on to become pretty much the mainstays in the operating room of many advanced surgical hospitals. Now, they are also being used for otherwise highly complicated eye surgery as well.

Back in 2016, several researchers who were working on the literal ‘cutting edge’ of advanced medical surgery, commenced a clinical trial so that they could test the “PRECEYES Surgical System”. This system consisted of a robot that has been designed for the express purpose of performing advanced surgery on the human retina i.e. the surface located at the back of the eyeballs. The results of this robot-assisted surgery of the eye have been published in the journal Nature Biomedical Engineering.

Operating the PRECEYES system involves the human surgeon using a joystick to control a highly mobile mechanical arm. In this case, the doctors have the ability to attach multiple instruments onto the arm. Due to the fact that the entire system is electronically operated, the robotic arm would not suffer from any jolt or tremor that can plague even the steadiest handed surgeon around.

In the original trial, the researchers from University of Oxford’s Nuffield Department of Clinical Neurosciences enlisted around a dozen patients who each needed a thin membrane removed from their eye’s retina. In terms of eye surgery, this is a fairly routine procedure. In this trial, six doctors performed the operation manually, while the remaining six performed the same procedure with the help of the PRECEYES Surgical System.

Surgery typically starts with a very tiny incision that is made just above the eye’s pupil. The incision is made in order to insert a tiny flashlight to help the surgeon in his work. However, when the robotic arm is doing the job, the surgeon gets a chance to insert the flashlight via an incision that is less than 1 mm in diameter.  The arm then proceeds to separate the membrane from the retina and then proceeds to remove it from the eye. The arm then exits via the same hole through which it had entered.

However, when the same surgery is conducted without the help of the robot, the surgeon has to do the job by hand, while manipulating microsurgical instruments, even as he looks through a powerful operating microscope.

All of the surgeries in the trial were completely successful. However, in cases where the robots were used, they made the surgeon far more effective than usual.

PRECEYES is the tip of the iceberg and now there are several robot surgeons that are in the developmental stage. While it is certainly true that they are not as fast as their human counterparts, they make up for it in precision and reliability. In the process, they have managed to usher in a whole new system of surgical refinements.

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Futuristic Sci Fi writer.

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