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Robotic system designed to perform delicate eye surgery


October 27, 2011

Thijs Meenink and his robotic eye surgery system (Photo: Eindhoven University of Technology/Bart van Overbeeke)

Thijs Meenink and his robotic eye surgery system (Photo: Eindhoven University of Technology/Bart van Overbeeke)

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By now, many readers are probably familiar with the da Vinci robotic surgery system. It allows a seated surgeon, using a 3D display and hand controls, to operate on a patient using robotic arms equipped with surgical instruments. Not only does the system allow for more laparoscopic surgery (in which surgical instruments access the inside of the patient's body through small incisions, instead of one large opening), but it even makes it possible for the surgeon and the patient to be in separate geographical locations. Now, a researcher at the Netherlands' Eindhoven University of Technology has developed a similar system, designed specifically for operations on the eye.

PhD student Thijs Meenink created his robot with procedures on the retina and the vitreous humor in mind. Such eye surgery requires a particularly steady hand - something that surgeons tend to lose as they get older. Consisting of a previously-developed dual-joysticked "master" control unit and Meenik's two-armed "slave" robotic module, the system filters out hand tremors. This is achieved through its scaling down of the operator's hand movements. If the surgeon's hand were to twitch by a centimeter, for instance, the corresponding surgical tool would only twitch by one millimeter. This should result in surgeons being able to keep performing such procedures farther into their careers.

The robot's selection of needle-like instruments are only half a millimeter wide, and include forceps, surgical scissors and drains. They can be interchanged within seconds, which is an important consideration, as one eye operation can reportedly involve up to 40 instrument changes. Due to the precision made possible by the system, those instruments can also enter the patient's eye repeatedly in exactly the same spot, minimizing damage to the eye tissue.

Meenik's system additionally provides haptic feedback through the joysticks. This means that the surgeon is able to feel an approximation of the resistance that the instruments are meeting as they work on the eye, and can proceed accordingly. The procedure should also be physically easier on the surgeon, as they can be seated in an upright position, instead of standing hunched over the patient.

Thijs believes that the first use of the Eindhoven system on a human subject should occur within five years. In the meantime, he is looking into commercializing the technology.

About the Author
Ben Coxworth An experienced freelance writer, videographer and television producer, Ben's interest in all forms of innovation is particularly fanatical when it comes to human-powered transportation, film-making gear, environmentally-friendly technologies and anything that's designed to go underwater. He lives in Edmonton, Alberta, where he spends a lot of time going over the handlebars of his mountain bike, hanging out in off-leash parks, and wishing the Pacific Ocean wasn't so far away. All articles by Ben Coxworth

I hope the lack of response here is due to Gizmag \"approving\" comments. This is game changing technology, and can reduce the caveats of eye surgery, which include blindness but not limited (as with any medical procedure) to death. And as I personally know more than one micro-vascular surgeon, the precision this instrument offers over the DaVinci is profound, and may very well find its way into neurosurgery as well. While the DaVinci was initially ground-breaking in its ability to turn a long held concept into reality, it has many specific limitations that prevent its use in other surgical fields. Watch one life threatening, long duration procedure once (especially in person), and you too will appreciate the application and improvement this device offers.

Jonathan Speegle

Final destination 5

Michael Glazer

I agree that this is a nice technology, but to be honest, it just doesn\'t seem like much of a breakthrough as far as robotics is concerned. I don\'t mean to criticize, it\'s just that this level of precision is well within the state of the art and has been for some time now. Of course I\'m not familiar with surgical procedures or with the medical industry in general for that matter, so there are probably many impressive elements of the system that I\'m overlooking. Nonetheless, I suspect that if there is a need (and a willing market) for robot assisted surgeries, then we can expect to see some pretty fantastic products in the near future.

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