Rocket Science and Brain Surgery

robotic brain surgeryDrawing on technology derived from the CanadaArm robotic arm used on the space shuttle, neurosurgery researchers at the University of Calgary are developing the world’s first neuro-surgery robot, which was unveiled to the public recently.

The neuroArm gives neurosurgeons the ability to perform the most delicate and minute work within a magnetic resonance imaging machine (MRI), seeing a crisp real-time 3-D image of even the tiniest nerves. Although brain surgeons train for years to develop dexterity and steady hands, they cannot match the pinpoint precision of movement and detail of the neuroArm.

The worlds top neurosurgeons are able to work with an accuracy of an eighth of an inch, but the new robotic surgery will allow accuracy of the width of a human hair, which is around 4 1,000s of an inch. It is a jump from the organ level of operation to the cellular level, say researchers involved in the project, which has cost $27 million so far.

According to head developer, neurosurgeon Garnette Sutherland, shown in photo, “Robotics will ensure a higher quality of life, it will maximize surgical objectives and make hospital stays shorter.”

The arm is controlled by the surgeon from a computer workstation, in conjunction with real-time MR imaging, and its “fingers” possess a delicate sense of touch. It is planned to perform its first operation summer of 2007.

Various devices for robotic surgery have been around since the mid-eighties, when the PUMA 560 robot was used to place a needle for a brain biopsy using CT guidance. Remote ‘tele-surgery is also in development. In 2001, surgeons in New York, the patient in Strasbourg, France. used a high-bandwidth telecommunications circuit to guide a three-armed robot in Strasbourg, France 3,870 miles away to remove a gallbladder from a 68-year-old woman.

Surgical robotics has been used in many types of pediatric surgical procedures including: tracheoesophageal fistula repair, cholecystectomy, nissen fundoplication, morgagni hernia repair, kasai portoenterostomy, congenital diaphragmatic hernia repair, and others. On January 17, 2002, surgeons at Children’s Hospital of Michigan in Detroit performed the nation’s first advanced computer-assisted robot-enhanced surgical procedure at a children’s hospital.