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Robotic Eye Surgery: Science Fact Is Stranger Than Fiction
Robotic Eye Surgeons Get Put to the Test
A team of researchers at the University of Oxford decided to test the effectiveness of a new form of robot that can perform tiny operations inside the eye. The robots had originally been designed for surgical use a few years before in the Netherlands, and had successfully been used to perform surgery on a pig’s eye, which is similar in size to that of a human. But up until now, the robots had never been tested on a human eye.
The test involved 12 patients who required surgery to remove harmful membranes growing on their eyes. Six of the patients received the new, experimental robot surgery, while six more served as a control group and received the traditional removal surgery instead.
The robots themselves are a technological marvel. They can operate within the eye through a hole only 1mm in size, and are capable of making movements as precise as 1 micron. The robot functions almost like a mechanical hand which can be used to remove the membrane. It isn’t autonomous, however. It remains under the control of the surgeon by means of a joystick and advanced video equipment which allows doctors and their teams to monitor the progress of the operation in real time.
The results of the surgery were quite impressive. In the control group that received conventional surgery, five of the six patients experienced micro-hemorrhages (tiny instances of bleeding) and two had a “retinal touch,” which refers to an elevated risk of a retinal detachment or tear.
Compare those results to those of the robotic test group: only two patients had micro-hemorrhages, and just one experienced a retinal touch!
The results are clear: A chapter has been opened in the history of robotics-enhanced surgery. “We have just witnessed a vision eye surgery in the future,” said Professor Robert Maclaren of the Nuffield Laboratory of Ophthalmology, following the surgery. He’s right, and you should be on the lookout for more exciting developments of and uses for robotics in human medicine and surgery.