Professor of Ophthalmology Robert MacLaren and Dr. Thomas Edwards, Nuffield Medical Fellow, have performed the first robotic eye surgery. They used a remote-controlled robot to lift a membrane 100th of a millimeter thick from the retina on the back of the right eye of Reverend Dr. Wiliam Beaver, 70. He was the first patient to ever undergo the procedure.
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The Robotic Retinal Dissection Device (R2D2) trial was sponsored by the University of Oxford and funded by the NIHR Oxford Biomedical Research Centre with support from Oxford University Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust, according to their website. There was additional funding from a Dutch charity, Zizoz, which supports choroideremia patients.
The robot needed to operate inside the eye through a hole that was less than 1mm in diameter. The robot had to go in and out of the hold several times and adjust for the natural movement. The device was designed so that tremors from a surgeon's hand could be eliminated. The robot itself acts like a hand with seven individual computer-controlled parts which can make the movements precise to a 1000th of a millimeter.
In this case, there was a membrane growing on his retina that had pulled it into an uneven shape. This impacted his vision, making things look distorted.
The surgeons control the robot on a joystick and touchscreen outside of the robot to monitor its progress. This is the first time that a robot has been used on something as smell and delicate as the human eye. They have been used for larger areas, however. The robot was developed by Preceyes engineers and the team at the University of Oxford’s Nuffield Laboratory of Ophthalmology. They've been working for 18 months to get a clinical trial, and this is the first operation.
When he completed the operation, Professor Robert MacLaren said: "There is no doubt in my mind that we have just witnessed a vision of eye surgery in the future. Current technology with laser scanners and microscopes allows us to monitor retinal diseases at the microscopic level, but the things we see are beyond the physiological limit of what the human hand can operate on. With a robotic system, we open up a whole new chapter of eye operations that currently cannot be performed."
Father Beaver said, "My sight is coming back. I am delighted that my surgery went so well and I feel honoured to be part of this pioneering research project."
Professor MacLaren added, "This will help to develop novel surgical treatments for blindness, such as gene therapy and stem cells, which need to be inserted under the retina with a high degree of precision."
The trial will have 12 patients overall and will increase in complexity.