First operation using ‘robotic hands’ completed successfully

The first operation to make use of ‘robotic hands’ has been carried out by plastic surgeons at Maastricht University Medical Center.

The operation was treating a patient with lymphedema, a chronic condition in which fluid builds up and causes swelling and which commonly occurs as a side effect of breast cancer treatment.

The surgeons, who said it was the first example of a super-microsurgical intervention with ‘robot hands’, used the device to suture vessels of 0.3 to 0.8mm in the arm of the patient.

The robotic device, created by Eindhoven company Microsure, enhances the surgeon’s precision, making this type of procedure easier to perform.

The patient is recovering well from the operation and the surgeons are confident that it was a success.

This type of treatment for lymphedema is relatively new and potentially much more effective at connecting the blood vessels to restore the flow of lymphatic fluid and alleviate the swelling.

This intervention is, however, particularly difficult and stressful to perform given the extreme precision required from the surgeon. Worldwide, only a few surgeons are capable of carrying out this surgical technique by hand.

The surgical robot is controlled by a surgeon whose hand movements are converted into smaller, more precise movements which then are performed on the patient by a set of ‘robot hands’.

The device also stabilises any tremor in the surgeon’s movements, which makes the procedure more controlled and thus easier to perform.

The Microsure robot is expected to enhance a large number of microsurgical procedures and enable new interventions that are currently impossible to perform by hand. This will lead to better patient outcome and lower healthcare costs due to a reduced rate of complication and less post-operative treatment.

“Microsure enables us to be very precise in our movements during procedures that need a surgical microscope,” said Shan Shan Qiu Shao, plastic surgeon at Maastricht University Medical Center.

“Their robot allows us to operate on minuscule lymph vessels and blood vessels with more ease, while getting better results for these complex and fatiguing interventions. Besides, it is very convenient that, within microsurgery, we can operate on vessels of every size with this robot. Most importantly, of course, this is good news for the patients concerned.”

“We are very pleased and proud that the first intervention using our robot has been a success and that the surgeons are enthusiastic,” says Raimondo Cau, the technical brain of Microsure. “This proves that our technology is a key breakthrough in improving surgical care.

“As a next step, we aim to assist surgeons during other types of complex microsurgical procedures like tissue reconstructions after removal of a tumor. Using our device they will be able to perform surgery with better precision and fewer complications.”

Last year, an autonomous robot performed surgery on a pig’s intestine, resulting for the first time in better results than a human surgeon. 

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