British surgeons performed the first robotic operation inside the eye and potentially revolutionized the way eye conditions can be treated. Patient William Beaver, 70, says his eyesight returned after the procedure. The procedure was performed by John Radcliffe Hospital surgeons.
After the procedure, Professor Robert MacLaren says there is no doubt that they have just witnessed an example of eye surgery of the future. The current technology of eye surgeries with lasers and microscopes allows us to monitor retinal diseases at the microscopic level, but with the robotic system, a new chapter of eye surgeries is opening up that cannot be performed at the moment.
The procedure was necessary because the patient had a membrane over the retina that collected it in an incorrect position. The membrane was about a hundredth of a millimeter thin and needed to be removed without damaging the retina. Surgeons usually do this by slowing their heart rate and counting movements between heartbeats, but a robot can do this much more easily.
Experts claim that the robot can enable new, highly precise procedures without a human hand. Surgeons used a joystick and touchscreen to control the robot, tracking its progress through an operating microscope, and significant movements of the joystick resulted in tiny movements of the robot.
This is the first time that the device has achieved the three-dimensional precision needed to operate inside the human eye. Professor MacLaren says this will help develop new surgical treatments for blindness, such as gene therapy or stem cell therapy, which need to be inserted under the retina with a high degree of precision.
Trial robotic surgeries include 12 patients with surgeries of high complexity. In the first part, a robot was used to remove membranes from sensitive retinas without damaging them. If that part is successful, as it has been so far, the second phase will assess how the robot can place a tiny needle under the retina and inject fluid through it.
Experts say this will lead to the use of robots in gene therapy, a new treatment for blindness that has already been tried in several centers around the world.