In a medical first, surgeons have used a robot to operate inside the human eye, greatly improving the accuracy of a delicate surgery to remove fine membrane growth on the retina. Such growth distorts vision and, if left unchecked, can lead to blindness in the affected eye.
Currently, doctors perform this common eye surgery without robots. But given the delicate nature of the retina and the narrowness of the opening in which to operate, even highly skilled surgeons can cut too deeply and cause small amounts of hemorrhaging and scarring, potentially leading to other forms of visual impairment, according to the researchers who tested out the new robotic surgery in a small trial. The pulsing of blood through the surgeon’s hands is enough to affect the accuracy of the cut, the researchers said.
In the trial, at a hospital in the United Kingdom, surgeons performed the membrane-removal surgery on 12 patients; six of those patients underwent the traditional procedure, and six underwent the new robotic technique. Those patients in the robot group experienced significantly fewer hemorrhages and less damage to the retina, the findings showed.
The technique is “a vision of eye surgery in the future,” Dr. Robert E. MacLaren, a professor of ophthalmology at the University of Oxford in the United Kingdom, who led the study team and performed some of the surgeries, said in a statement. MacLaren presented the results Monday at the annual meeting of the Association for Research in Vision and Ophthalmology (ARVO), happening this week in Baltimore.
“These are the early stages of a new, powerful technology,” said MacLaren’s colleague Dr. Marc de Smet, an ophthalmologist in the Netherlands who helped design the robot. “We have demonstrated safety in a delicate operation. The system can provide high precision [at] 10 microns in all three primary [directions], which is about 10 times” more precise than what a surgeon can do, de Smet said. (The three primary directions are up/down, left/right, and towards the head/towards the feet.)
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