The field of miniature robotics is revolutionizing the way we do surgeries. What was once done by huge machines or the trembling hands of a surgeon can now be done by the precise movements of robots.
That is exactly what happened to the field of eye surgery with this new development. Doctors from Oxford's John Radcliffe Hospital have performed the first ever eye surgery using tiny robots that operated inside the eye.
While robot-assisted surgery is nothing new, these are often confined to large organs. This is because they lack the minute precision required in delicate environments such as the eye. Despite this, it was a robot who was operating on Revd Dr William Beaver, 70, an Associate Priest at St Mary the Virgin, Iffley, Oxford, who had a membrane 100th of a millimeter thick blocking his retina. He is the first patient ever to undergo this experimental procedure.
The Preceyes surgical robot, developed by a Dutch medical robotics firm, was specifically designed for this sort of procedure. It is able to move precisely and adjust for the trembling of the surgeon's hands controlling the robot. Preceyes is controlled using a joystick and touch-screen, and is monitored using microscope. In this particular surgery, it was controlled by Robert MacLaren, Professor of Ophthalmology, who was assisted by Dr Thomas Edwards, Nuffield Medical Fellow.
The robot features seven independent computer-controlled motors, which act like a mechanical hand that moves with a precision of 1000th of a millimeter in scale. Large movements of the joystick result in small movements of the robot, and has a "freezing" function that stops the robot when grip is lost on the joystick or when preparing for drug delivery. With the successful operation on Beaver, the field may open up to more robot assisted eye surgeries. But the ultimate goal is performing operations impossible with human operators.
"We can certainly improve on current operations, but I hope the robot will allow us to do new more complex and delicate operations that are impossible with the human hand," says Prof Robert MacLaren, who led the procedure, to the BBC.